#73: Apple Picking

October 15th, 2012

The joint was jumping that Saturday night. Hopping. Jam-packed with the young and trendy, the old and catching up, families, kids, a legion of staffers in blue T-shirts.

There were a few soldiers in their uniforms. A few hipsters in theirs. Every age and race was represented proportionally and happily in that crowd primped and propered for a Saturday night outing to the computer store.

The shaved head clerk in the blue Apple T-shirt gave me a little smiling wince.

“Sometimes it’s busier,” he said.

I laughed and asked why people would spend their weekend nights shopping at the Apple Store at North and Clybourn (and felt bad after I let slip that his place of employment was the last place I wanted to be on a Saturday).

The clerk grin-grimaced again, betraying that I had said what he was thinking. He dropped his voice quietly enough so only I could hear.

“I guess a lot of people don’t have much going on,” he said.

An Apple computer is a fine product that inspires a personal, emotional brand connection not usually seen outside decals where Calvin pees on a Chevy logo. The little silver MacBooks and blocky iPhones aren’t just products. For some, they’re totems.

There are the coffee shops where the MacBook Pros scattered on the tables outnumber the mugs.

There are the lines and clamor at stores and online for every new version of the iPhone, iPad, iCloud, iSleeve, iHammer, iTable, iCup, iPants or whatever new implement gets a blockier re-design every six months.

And then there was the mourning and rending of sackcloth over the death of S. Jobs. People who never knew him cried over the far-reaching visionary who changed the world by… streamlining existing technologies while wearing mock turtlenecks.

Bill Gates’ foundation spends billions of dollars and saves millions of lives around the globe each year. He’s seen as a monopolistic nerd. Jobs made phones shiny and he’s the freethink techno-pope.

Chinese factory scandals, spurious lawsuits, bundling DRM tech so we don’t own our own music anymore. Apple gets a bye where other companies get scorched. We say a Nike or a Walmart gamed the system. We say Apple thought different.

Inside the bright silver store at North and Clybourn, people milled happily. They shopped happily, purchased happily and walked out a few thousand dollars lighter in the bank, happily. The filled Genius Barstools held people who seemed contented if not delighted to be dealing with tech support issues on a Saturday night.

A woman with an uncomfortably taut facelift helped two toddlers play jigsaw puzzle games on the iPads corded to the kids table. The toddlers sat on round, black, ergonomic balls for chairs. Giant screens to the side of them displayed the times for the adult, youth and kids workshops.

Apple likes ‘em young.

That night, the girlfriend and I streamed documentaries on her 13-inch MacBook Pro, the same machine I’m writing on now. We cuddled on the couch and had sweet moments provided by an Apple machine. I should be kinder to the company.

But I don’t love this machine any more than I love the table it was sitting on. I don’t love Steve Jobs any more than I love Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle or the guy who made my electric toothbrush.

Both the Apple Store and the computer it sells work perfectly. They’re attractive and popular brushed-aluminum silver rectangles, each identical in form and function to a thousand others. That’s why the love people feel for the places and machines chafes me, seems wasted. A sequence of identical gray rectangles — even ones with well-functioning staff or circuitry — just leaves me cold.

Who can love a silver box?

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