It was around 7 pm Eastern time Wednesday when I read the news of Steve Jobs’s passing.
It hit me surprisingly hard.
I was drinking with my MacBook at the nerdiest bar in Brooklyn, and when I started to cry no one judged.
In fairness, it’s a bar with its very own Tardis, the legendary time-machine from the BBC’s multidecade-long series Doctor Who. So the regular crowd is predisposed to understanding a wake for someone you never really knew. As a crowd, we enjoy fantasy.
We’ve lost a revolutionary, so why wouldn’t a grown man shed tears?
A round of shots later I found myself digging through Google Image Search and YouTube, looking for photos and video clips with which to remember Jobs — not as the gaunt, cancer-ridden yet capable CEO of the 2000s but as the healthy, energetic, and business-leary twentysomething who claimed the insurmountable goal of changing the whole world without any guarantee of success.
An hour later I was on the subway, a little drunk and a lot sad. Riding the Q train to 57th Street and 7th Avenue from Brooklyn, I found myself wondering what I’d find at the 5th Avenue store.
Friends from all over the world sent messages to me on Twitter as I popped in and out of 3G coverage. Most asked me to pay their respects in lieu of their presence. All of them communicated their wishes by iPhone.
After 20 minutes of sobering up on the train, I found myself above ground at 57th Street, the heart of monied Manhattan’s shopping playground. The walk from the train to the 5th Avenue store is littered with the names of brands everyone aspires to be swaddled in: Hermès. Breitling. Tiffany.
And there, just outside the FAO Schwarz toy store where Tom Hanks danced on the giant piano in the movie Big, stands the Mecca of all Apple stores: a glass-wrapped cube of pure, unadulterated brand promotion.
Steve’s Fifth Avenue store houses the product lines—iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad—that changed Apple from a simple computer company into a brand with which we all wanted to associate.
Haters gonna hate, but the Apple converted will gladly testify that Jobs created a cult of love for design and simplicity.
Steve underscored for us the notion that stripping away all the bullshit often leads to something greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s a lesson I never want to forget.
Currently closed for a renovation and clad in smooth gray painted plywood, the 5th Avenue store has stood watch as Apple went from edge-brand status to mass market success, all under the leadership of the man I’d travelled from Brooklyn to mourn—or, rather, cover the mourning of.
As I hit the sidewalk, I wasn’t sure where the dividing line between mourner and journalist was drawn but, I’m certain I crossed it hours ago.
I was an emissary for the emotional outpouring of my dearest geek friends on three continents. To be frank, I was a bit too drunk for all the gravity that entailed.
To be even more frank, I don’t think I’d have been able to stomach the responsibility or the situation any other way.
At this point, I felt the need to make a confession: I’d never been to the 5th Avenue Apple store before Wednesday night.
I’ve always wanted to go — I’ve always wanted to see Mount Rushmore, too — but until last night I’d seen neither one up close. I kicked myself mentally as I walked up 5th from 57th Street, thinking, “Why didn’t I make this trip before? Will my first 5th Avenue store experience be forever melancholy with the memory of Steve’s passing so deeply interwoven?”
As I walked up the block, it became apparent that I wasn’t the only Apple fan with mixed emotions about tonight’s trek. I could see the glow of an iPad as I approached the wall of plywood.
Placed dead-center and surrounded by a carpet of flowers and notes from anonymous bereaved, the iPad carried an image on its screen: Steve, of course.
Black turtleneck, unshaven, and balding, the triumphant Jobs of the mid-2000s stared back at the 20 or so mourners gathered on the sidewalk. The Steve who came back from one of the most public CEO oustings in history to turn a near-dead Apple into the Wall Street darling we know today.
That’s not the Steve I want to remember.
That Steve, there on the screen he championed, is the Steve of the Reality Distortion Field—the consummate pitchman who could make Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan turn cannabis-green with jealousy over his ability to captivate a crowd.
The Steve of “one more thing.” Without reasonable argument to the contrary, that Steve was a hero. He had awesome products to pitch and the ability to sell his vision in 30 minutes worth of slides.
I’d much rather remember the scrappy Steve, who didn’t obfuscate things or mince words when he told you he was going to change the whole freakin’ game. I want to remember the Steve so consumed with his own vision that he had no problem raising a middle finger to the status quo.
That Steve. So brash, so agitated. A Steve Jobs so certain of success that hiring Ridley Scott as director of the commercial for the Macintosh launch themed on George Orwell’s 1984 wasn’t a leap; it was simply a means to a message.
Jobs will be remembered, and rightly so, for his unbelievable stewardship as he turned the sinking ship that was 1997’s Apple Computer into Apple Inc., the class leader we know today.
I want to remember Steve Jobs as the kid who never saw failure as an option.
I want to remember Steve in a bow-tie, 1984, in front of a crowd of Apple faithful, demonstrating the Macintosh to the world for the first time.
Three to six months. That’s what the doctors offered Jobs in 2004. He’s one of the few men to ever look 90-180 days in the face and resolutely say, “Fuck, you. This is going to go down a little differently.”
In his own words, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.”
If heaven really does exist, Steve, you’re certainly being peppered with questions from God about why he can’t get the upgrade price on an iPhone 4S. I hope you have the patience to answer him.
Personally, I’ve found it’s easier just to tell people I work in plastics.
If the outpouring of emotion in front of the 5th Avenue store is any barometer, we’ll be missing you for a long time to come.
I only hope you left with the feeling that you’d done it. And, I only want to remember you when you weren’t so certain that you could.
In your 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, you made a point of explaining the demise of The Whole Earth Catalog. As you wound down your speech, you quoted the last page of the final Whole Earth issue.
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
I will, Steve. I promise.