Friday, October 7, 2011

steve jobs, ad nauseum

I had a unique opportunity yesterday to do something I tend to shy away from.

As a writer, engineer, father, and husband, I do my best to keep my decisions and activities away from what is popular or expected of me. Case in point, spring break 2004.

Early in my trials of single parenthood, I decided on a spring break destination for my six year old son and me. We had been on our own for a couple years and never taken advantage of the time off before. Popular destinations for families with kids are Wisconsin Dells water park resorts or Florida and its theme parks. Not me. Not my son. After a great deal of consideration, we were headed to Detroit! And what is in Detroit that would call us bachelors in? Why, a museum, of course (doesn't everyone go to a museum over spring break?). Which museum? The Henry Ford.

Let me explain why this destination was chosen. First, living a little north of Chicago, the drive is easy for us, just an eastward jaunt on 94, stop before you hit the Ambassador Bridge. Second, The Henry Ford has a curator staff second only to that of the Smithsonian. Third, the museum just unveiled its latest acquisition, the Rosa Parks bus and this was something I wanted my son to see more than a guy who calls himself an actor because he walks around a theme park wearing a Mickey Mouse costume. The bus is an everyday experience for a child and seeing how a simple gesture could turn it into an artifact of national significance in the American time-line, is perhaps the most real  way to explain what things used to be like for Blacks in our culture. Forget the water slides and roller-coasters. Spring break was going to mean something that year, and it did.

The bus itself was found behind a barn, rusted, interior missing, all the glass broken. Still, even in this rough state, someone realized its importance and saved it. The two top bidders were the Henry Ford and the Smithsonian. Henry Ford won. Restored to look exactly as it did that fateful day, the bus is the crowning jewel in an exhibit on racial intolerance which includes disturbing images and items like actual drinking fountains with the words "for whites only" set in the porcelain glaze.

My son got to sit in the actual seat Rosa Parks sat in which got her arrested. There was a recorded presentation on the bus and he and I sat next to each other listening. During that audio presentation a family entered the bus. They were black. Jim and I got up from the seat where Ms. Parks sat and gave it up to that family. As token and trite as it may have been, It made me feel a little better about myself and hopefully it gave my son something to look back on. I could not do anything to make up for the racial intolerance which took place before my time. All I could do was try to make sure it didn't happen in my son's time. Little did we know that six years after that event took place, I would become a father again and my son would become a brother, to a little boy from Haiti who is most definitely black.

Yesterday I broke my rule about doing what is popular or expected of me. I accompanied my wife into Chicago. She was seeing her doctor for a regular checkup. Her physician's office is located a few blocks away from the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue and when we were done with her appointment, we decided to satisfy our curiosity and headed over to have a look. Earlier in the morning, local news coverage of Steve Jobs death the previous evening was delivered by reporters standing outside of that very store and each one highlighted the "makeshift memorial" on the sidewalk. Now was our chance to see it up close, to share with the rest of the world in an activity that was for one day, popular.

The crowd outside of the store was quiet and it seemed they did not know how to react. The weather was perfect and shoppers hurried by, inconvenienced by the onlookers blocking their path. Inside the store people shopped and did not present themselves to be in mourning. Outside were news cameras and press photographers angling to find the perfect shot of people observing the "makeshift memorial." There were flowers and notes up against the glass. Some left newspapers with the headline of Mr. Jobs passing facing up.

Like everyone else, I scrambled to find my emotional base in this shared experience which I was trying to connect to. I read one of the notes, "To the craziest one of them all. It's been an honor to share this planet with you." I couldn't honestly say I could get on board with that sentiment. Was Steve Jobs crazy? And if he was, are we talking Steve Martin wild and crazy guy crazy or was it more of a, why did we take the kids to Chuckie Cheese, crazy? I took a picture of the note with my Motorola phone while my wife used her HTC phone to do the same. No iPhone for me or her. Maybe it was in bad taste so to do when new iPhones were just steps away. 

We turned the corner after seeing the "makeshift memorial." I still didn't feel connected so I posted a message to facebook proclaiming I was at the memorial to Steve Jobs at the Apple store. Twenty-four hours later and still no one commented. This is why I don't do what is popular. It can be so fulfilling. So I write this blog.

Far more intelligent people than me will eulogize Steve Jobs and they will say the right things and everyone will nod their heads in agreement. I will nod too, thinking of how Steve Jobs drive and passion in business benefited a Windows user like myself, as Microsoft continued its pursuit of a more Mac-like experience. And for that Steve Jobs, I will miss you.