REMEMBERING STEVE – A memory shared.
Imagine, if you will, a fancy hotel in San Diego, USA with huge lawns either side of it surrounding the plush building sitting beside the sea. Four of us flew from the Apple Dublin Sales Office for the World Wide Sales Conference of the company circa 2001 and we were made up of three died-in-the-wool Dubliners and me, the token culchie from Cork.
Prior to take off from Dublin at 5.30am that morning, the pub just before the departure gate was hopping and we met and joined in the boldness with enthusiasm. By boarding time two and half hours later we were bouncing and full of goodwill to our fellow man. Top-ups as the Atlantic swam by underneath us kept the buzz going and regular trips to the airplane loo required more top-ups on return. I positively flowed off the aircraft at Chicago to have them decide whether I was fit to enter America, and that interlude is worth a posting by itself.
Anyway, we arrived safely into San Diego and were bussed to the designated hotel early that morning and the first function of the day was lunch out on those sprawling lawns. This was a no-expense-spared, event and we Irish crew spotted the London office crowd digging in from afar. The Brits were a lively lot too! So we shimmied around trying not to look lost or out of place and the first thing that impacted us was the level of food. There were these massive stainless steel carts scattered all over the grass and each had hot dishes from everywhere on the planet. One could get ginormous steaks at one, fish you'd never heard of at the next and oriental stuff you could not be sure wasn't dead when it hit your plate. Altogether then, it was a feast for Kings.
So we shoveled loads of stuff onto real plates and found a niche to stand and dig in. After the nose-bag, the issue of drink naturally reared its head with loads of carts of that too. But that is when we learned that our American colleagues in Apple considered anyone who took two "bottles" of beer to be an "alco-hole-ic." Two bottles is a pint but two bottles of Bud or the other colored water they had, is just piss-water and doesn't count. We felt cheated by the dismal effort at beer, though our MD had something in a short glass that kept him happy. Anyway, full but disgruntled on a manicured lawn outside of a flash hotel in San Diego with the other three lads and a glass of Bud-urine, I lit a smoke, (as you do!). We were shooting the breeze when all of a sudden I got a chill down my back and then my hair literally tingled, Something wasn't right. It was a hot californian day and I suddenly felt very cold. Then my boss said in a whisper, "Jesus lads, here he comes." and he was looking behind ME! When I flicked my head to the right, God was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me. Yup! I was in the crazy presence of Steve Jobs.
Steve was famous for getting his own way both in arguments and negotiations. Observers swore he employed a tactic called a 'reality distortion field,' which he could conjure up at will and surround you with. Resistance, as they say, was futile. He was a bully too and lethal at close quarters if you wanted to continue your employment with his company. Stories from headquarters told of unsuspecting workers stepping into the lift, (elevator), only to find to their horror that the awesome one was going up too. A couple of floors later a dazed and upset the employee would emerge to clear out his desk and leave forever.
So our boss makes the introductions and Steve fixes his steely gaze on each of in turn. I'm introduced last and he concentrates that penetrating stare on me and asks in a soft direct voice, "What do you do for Apple John?" Straight into P-45 territory without preamble. Maybe it was the drink but I gave a good sharp account of myself as if I had practiced my lines, which I hadn't. Four short clipped sentences later and Steve nods his acknowledgement to me. He was then about to turn his attention to the next guy when smoke from the concealed fag in my hand drifted up and assailed the Job's nose. "I can't stay here with that," he said pointing firmly and turned on his heels and fucked off. Four middle-aged men stood frozen until he was out of earshot and then my three traveling companions turned to me with glee all over their faces and said, "Brilliant Mallon, you got rid of the fucker."
Steve was a hater of alcohol, banned smoking on the Apple Campus at Cupertino long before anyone was banning it and he was a devoted vegetarian to boot. We were swimming in beer and I was puffing like a trooper so for the great man it was a case of "Get thee behind me Satan." The following night in the giant auditorium I saw the public Steve at his best on stage. It was the launch of the first iMac and the concept of "i" or internet ready products. It spawned iPod, iTunes, iPad and iPhone and the "i" strategy and tactics for the coming years were all planned and prepared. He was truly a genius because all of it was his idea amid a chorus of objections internally in the company. His delivery on stage was eloquent and humorous and he came over like an affable young uncle with a twinkle in his eye. His pancreatic illness had not manifest itself back then so I was looking at a tall, confident, capable man striding the boards like a pro as he shared his vision of the future with the faithful and sold us all on it. You could not help but hang on his every word.
Three thousand of us from every corner of the world spilled out of the hall that night driven with a new urgency to make a difference. We could hardly wait to get back to our own areas and spread the Gospel according to Steve. We now had a world-beating product range with the designs of the incredible Jonny Ives, the technical genius of the engineers at Cupertino and the vision of Steve built into everything. We couldn't lose. I will remember that feeling of elation that Steve could instill for a very long time. He was indeed an incredible human being and my life was enriched by even talking with him for such a short time. I also earned the undying gratitude of my work colleagues for hunting him away with the fag before he got into any detailed questions that could get someone fired on the spot.
So I'm in two minds whether to go to the new movie about him. I am naturally curious but somehow, I want to remember the guy as I saw him that day. Awesome!