The Story of ThankingSteve


Back-to-school sales were in full swing as I stood in a department store, held up a mock turtleneck, and yelled to my friend down the aisle, "Suzanne, this and a pair of jeans and I'll be Steve Jobs for Halloween!" She chuckled and continued shopping. It wasn’t odd for me to wear black most of the time, having settled years ago on a "uniform" of black v-neck tees and jeans (Tyra was right: show your neck to look tall!). I needed some mock turtlenecks for winter anyway. It wasn't the first time that dressing like Steve Jobs seemed like an easy choice.

Then he died.

My cute, half-serious idea suddenly fell under the shadow of bad taste. Oh well, I didn't have any parties to attend after all, so I brushed the thought aside.

Overnight, the world was talking about Steve Jobs. Flowers appeared as shrines in front of Apple Stores around the globe, candles and Post-It notes left as a spontaneous tribute. Even friends texted me with all seriousness, "I'm so sorry for your loss." How could I offer my own tribute to this inspiring man? I pulled the mock turtleneck out of my dresser and imagined walking into the Apple Store… and doing what? It seemed a little too "look-at-me." Back into the dresser. But the idea stuck in my head. Maybe if I could hand something out? A pamphlet? An inspirational write-up? Business cards? It still reeked of self-promotion.

Everywhere, tech pundits hit the presses with their own Steve Jobs' stories, both praising and deflating the man and myth. One article derided Steve's egomania and love of the spotlight, while another countered that Steve sought the spotlight only for the product, his creation, for Apple, but in his personal life was insanely private. Admittedly, I had seen Steve mellow over the years--with age, with fatherhood, and with approaching death. I remembered watching him, effusive with gratitude and thanks to the Apple team, during the iPhone introduction in 2007. "Thanking Steve" was a role he had grown into.

One morning it hit me while in the shower--What do people hand out at Halloween?


Online searches quickly led me to Appleheads candy, made by the company that makes Lemonheads. But shipping was outrageous, time was short, and I couldn't guarantee I could actually order them in time. No matter, turns out the factory is located on the west side of Chicago, selling out of their own factory store.

The rest of the pieces fell easily into place. I bought gray New Balance sneakers and Levi’s 501s. To carry the candy, I built a Fome-Cor box in the stylized shape of a 1984 Macintosh, spraying it with a matte sandy spray paint, and cutting the top opening in the shape of the Mac's handle. I printed out the screen front and when I couldn't trace smoothly on my computer with a mouse, I scripted "hello" using my iPad. I ordered a couple sets of costume eyeglasses but one set arrived with a gaudy gold rim and another rimless set was too tiny--like granny Santa glasses. At the last minute, I popped the round lenses out of their rims, bought a few tiny drill bits, and reassembled the rimless frames. Boom! Perfect Steve Jobs glasses. The look was complete.

For weeks I pondered the question, "How do you thank someone when they're gone?" Now I had my answer. Early on October 31st, with slicked-back hair and a backseat full of candy, I embarked on my mission: to visit each Apple Store in the Chicagoland area and hand out Appleheads in thanks to the people working there.

The first store was an hour away and I felt I was already running late as I made my way through the mall with my MacBox. No one in the mall even blinked. Funny how anywhere else but the Apple Store, Steve Jobs would just blend in. People were hesitant at first when approached by a stranger (with candy!), but those reactions quickly melted away, and when I left the store, it was to cheers and high-fives.

On my way to the next store, my friend Caitlin called. "OMG, I'm right down the street!" she said. She agreed to meet me at the store, but after waiting outside too long for her to arrive, I had to keep to my schedule and continue without her.

Ten minutes down the road toward the next store, my iPhone rang, "Did you see me? Did you see me? I'm a brunette now!" Behind my plastic lenses, I hadn't even noticed her. "I have to tell you," she said, "they LOVED you!"

She had grabbed her MacBook and was talking with a Genius during my walk-through. "I'm sorry," he said, turning back to her, "I didn't catch any of that, I was distracted watching this guy handing out candy as Steve Jobs."

"I know!" she cried, "He's my friend!" I don't think he believed her.

At the next few stores, pedestrians and shoppers started to join the fun, stopping to ask to take their photo with "Steve." At one store, an Apple employee in a black tutu greeted me--it was Halloween, after all, and a great day to be making fun memories.

A few weeks later, while hanging out at my neighborhood laundromat washing blankets, one of my iPhone social apps started buzzing. "Hey," the nearby stranger said, "Were you at the Old Orchard Apple Store handing out candy on Halloween? I was working there that day!"

A fun conversation followed, and I raised the most important question, "Did you get some candy?"

"Yes!" he replied, "Thanks!"

After nine stores in nine hours, stopping to take photos in the waning sun against the stainless steel walls of the Lincoln Park store, I completed my trek walking down the glass staircase of the Michigan Avenue store. But perhaps the most poignant moment occurred at the Apple Store in Deer Park. Visiting in mid-afternoon, I had a few stores under my belt, and my routine down pat: walk first to the Genius Bar at the back of the store and work my way to the front, handing out candy on my way. As I was about two-thirds of the way back to the front, I heard someone from behind me, "Sir, Sir!" I figured it was about time I encounter a security guard telling me I wasn't allowed to give anything to the employees, or that I couldn't hand out food in the stores. I turned around and saw a young man in a blue Apple t-shirt. He reached out both hands and grasped mine. "Thank you," he said, pausing between each word so I heard them clearly. "Thank you--Thank you so much for doing this." The earnest look on his face made my eyes well up. I stumbled with my words as other Apple employees gathered around us. I turned my MacBox around, showing a second screen I had printed on the back, this one spelling out in script: "goodbye." I raised my hand in a Steve Jobs’ wave, and as I headed to the door, I heard them calling in unison behind me,

"Goodbye, Steve! Goodbye!"

IMG_0561Read about 2012