My Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

October 5, 2011

I’m a very lucky man to have encountered Steve Jobs on several occasions while being a fan of the company’s retail stores. He showed up at my very first grand opening, the Palo Alto (N. Calif.) store. He walked over from his home just a few blocks away, snuck inside and hung out in the corner trying to be inconspicuous. He was loathe to make the event about himself, instead of making it about the store experience. At the San Francisco store he was more outgoing, proud of the store as he pointed out its features to political dignitaries. At the Fifth Avenue (NYC) store, he was positively gregarious—at least for Steve Jobs. He seemed to revel in walking among the tightly-packed crowd of first-day visitors, smiling widely the entire time. I also got to shake hands with him a couple of times, but we never had a real conversation. Nevertheless, from visiting and studying the stores he created, I feel like I know some part of him, and that I’ve been inspired and educated by him.

My everlasting image of Steve will be the day he stared me down—and I didn’t even realize it.

I was early in line for the Santa Rosa Plaza (N. Calif.) mini-store grand opening in October 2004. I took some photos and videos, and then drove an hour back home. A couple of hours later I thought of driving another hour the other direction to get a look at the Stanford mini-store, which had opened that same morning.

When I arrived I took some photos of the outside, and then stolled inside to notice Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson talking to the father of a store employee. Steve was in earnest, talking about some topic as I snapped a few photos of the trio.

Then I turned away from the group, both drawn by the odd floor and stainless steel interior, and not wanting to intrude on Steve’s conversation. After taking a few photos of the various store features, I went to the back of the store to take an overall view towards the front. Looking through the viewfinder, I lined up my wide-angle lens to show the milky white floor, the steel walls and the one-piece, all-white ceiling.

I then wandered over to the new EasyPay point-of-sale terminal that was a major feature of the mini-stores. An employee had just processed a transaction, and was now rummaging through a pull-out drawer for one of the famous Apple draw-string backpack shopping bags. I immediately put the camera to my eye and snapped off a couple of photos.

And as I snapped, my other eye was aware of a figure coming straight towards me. I turned at the last moment and noticed—it was Steve, and he was right on top of me. “No photographs, please,” he said while holding up a finger. Stunned, all I could say way, “Thank you, Mr. Jobs.” I then retreated outside to get my wind back.

But the real wind would be sucked out of me later when I arrived back home and began looking at the Stanford store photos I had taken.

As I loaded the digital photos into iPhoto, I noticed the frames I had taken from the rear of the store, and how they showed all the new features of the store. So I immediately double-clicked on one to prepare it for posting on my IFO Web site.

And there, in the very middle of the photograph, standing with his arms crossed, was Steve Jobs, staring directly at me. Not to the left, not to the right, but right into my lens. It was both disturbing and mesmerizing at the same time. He had been looking at me while I was photographing his new store, but I didn’t even realize it.

I’m not sure if Steve knew who I was, or that it had been me who posted a sneak photo that revealed the new mini-store design weeks before the grand opening. Either way, I read it in his expression—why are you taking photos of my store?!

That stare, not unfriendly but definitely pointed, has been my gift for the past seven years. I rarely looked at the original photo, but I could always see it clearly in my mind.

All these years, I feel as if I’ve been traveling with Steve on a long journey, with stops along the way to see wonderful things. He has inspired and planned the journey, and I have always been pleasantly surprised at the attractions he picks to visit. Like everyone else, I have always looked forward to Steve’s next surprise.

Now, I’m still traveling, but without him. It’s terribly unsettling, and terribly sad. I’m scared that perhaps the journey is over and there will be no more amazing things to see. I know there are others at Apple who will carry on the company’s culture and Steve’s imaginative work. I just wish Steve were still here to share the ride.

Update: For the curious, below is a full-frame version of the original photo, one of three frames I snapped from the rear of the store to show the new mini-store design. On the right you can see the open drawer at the EasyPay point-of-sale device that I photographed immediately after this photo—and where Mr. Jobs came over to me. On the left is a woman (blond hair) that I believe is Laurene Powell, Steve’s wife.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Marktrek October 6, 2011 at 1114

Great photo. It is why we take photos.

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Shoes October 6, 2011 at 1556

What’s with those dorky shoes?

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SoCal - Palm Desert, CA Store October 6, 2011 at 1930

About five flowers were left at our local Apple Store tonight, Thursday. A news crew was there to film the store. Thought the front of the store was like a memorium and clouds in the sky. The sun had reached the end of the valley and it was a good and sad day together. I will miss being always excited about what the Stevenote would bring.

Remember the apple posters, the first color mac II, the apple desktop reference book, all of it? I was in wonder and still am with it all. It was and remains amazing. Who would think in 2011, hundreds of stores around the world! :) Well, you know the rest. I don’t care about the numbers and the specs. Thank You Steve Jobs for Apple, Pixar, and reminding me to listen to my music once again.

Now you know how many people love you! :)

Brian

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The Shoes... October 6, 2011 at 2115

Those shoes were from what I know, air free sneakers. It is the same arena as job’s famous sneaker shoes worn everywhere, but an aired out version. Still very much, a sneaker. :) Or if you must, call it a half shoe/sandal. Ciao.

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Pete October 7, 2011 at 1453

The little boy at the window looking in makes the picture for me , I would think he has no idea what’s going on and who the late great mr jobs is but never the less he peers in the window.

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Gary October 7, 2011 at 2215

Wow! All these years and I never noticed the background! I guess that demonstrates how compelling I have found Steve Jobs. Yes, it certainly does add to the image.

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Mr Shadow October 7, 2011 at 1612

Those are KEEN closed-toe sandals. They’re awesome and not ludicrously over-priced.
So I’m understanding that photo is from 2004?

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Mike Kaufmann October 8, 2011 at 0940

A great photo of Steve Jobs! It shows his intensity, curiosity, and part of his young fan club!

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silta - Juan Tatay October 9, 2011 at 0718

Maybe the blond woman and the guy behind him are Laurene & Reed, aren’t they??
Just guessing. Fortunate shot, Gary.
Best regards from Valencia, Spain.
silta

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Gary Allen October 10, 2011 at 1409

I believe Ms. Powell is not in this particular cropped version of the photo, but was in the store at the time. The dark-haired head to the right of Steve could be Reed, the couple’s son, who would have been about 13 years-old at the time.

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Gian October 9, 2011 at 0802

This photo is stunning.

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Thomas Avallone October 27, 2011 at 0548

He looks more amused than pointed. Great pic. We’ll miss you, Steve.

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Brian July 3, 2013 at 1901

I never thought this day would happen. It is a shame at 56, but he did alot in his time left here. I wanted to say how amazing your photo of him is. I do believe that is the most amazing picture of jobs ever. It says everything there was to say about him: contempt, lawyer, judge, prophet, pep leader, crazy person, family man, control nut, inventor, devious smile. All that is jobs is in that picture.

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