Steve Jobs was the only real celebrity my hometown of Cupertino, California ever had. I don’t count, since my career as a television news anchor flamed out eighteen months ago when I was fired by CBS . Ronnie Lott, the former San Francisco 49er, lives in the Cupertino foothills, his house just across the canyon from where I grew up, but Lott’s name is synonymous with football, not the Silicon Valley. In my town, Jobs was kind of like Jesus–not everyone liked him, but we were all in awe.
In the early 1980s, Steve used to eat lunch at “The Good Earth”, the now-defunct Cupertino restaurant where I waitressed when I was sixteen. I remember this nerdy young guy who always ordered the Good Earth tostada, served in a whole-wheat tortilla and topped with sprouts. He smiled shyly at me when he asked for more Good Earth tea and drank gallons of the stuff. Steve always sat alone, devouring books and manuals way beyond my limited teenage understanding along with his food. It is possible his brilliant, visionary mind was already crafting the I-Phone, even way back then.
I called my mom the moment I heard Steve Jobs had died. She was sitting in front of her I-Mac, from which she has a view of the Cupertino Valley, The Apple headquarters nestled in the middle like a brilliant white palace. She was crying.
“There was a rainbow one day,” she sobbed, “that ended right on top of Apple.” My mom snapped a photograph. “I wanted to send it to him!” she added. “I meant to send it to him. And now,” she stopped suddenly, struggling for control. “Now, he’s dead.”
My mom said she didn’t know why she was crying for someone she’d never even met, and I felt the same pain and confusion. Why does the loss of someone to whom I’d only served tostadas and tea a lifetime ago feel so terrible and huge? Maybe it’s because Steve Jobs put our little town of Cupertino on the map. Maybe it’s because he made our lives so much easier over the years with Macintoshes and MacBooks. Maybe it’s because he died at 56, the same age my father died of cancer.
But it goes deeper than that. All my adult life, Steve Jobs showed me how to be brave. Whether it was refusing to fade into anonymity and bitterness after his own board of directors fired him in 1985, or refusing to let a devastating disease strip away his creative drive and technical genius, Steve Jobs kept his head up and his heart open. That we no longer have his example of humanity is what hurts the most.