Monthly Archives: April 2014

Waiting for spring in Wisconsin

Sometimes, the mind’s eye takes a snapshot that captures a mood, an event or even the weather. This winter, and  it still feels like winter,  has been way too cold too long, even for Wisconsin.

Driving home through an older neighborhood last weekend, I saw a family gathered in front of their home. The air was damp and chilly, and the sky hung like a permanent grey tarp above their heads. The family stood in the semi-shelter of the wide porch that fronted their two-story house, a narrow strip of grass in front of it. In the instant I drove by, they looked like statues without expression, a portrait of flannel shirts, hats and jackets. One or two had a can of beer in their hands as they stared ahead. A pink plastic trike sat untouched on the sidewalk. And there on the grass was the focus of the family’s stoney attention. A small black Weber grill sat on its tripod in cold insolence. There would be not brats today. No burgers. No happy children playing barefoot under a sunny sky. No T-shirts and shorts and laughter spilling off the porch. This was Wisconsin and they’d have to wait like the rest of us for spring.


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Finding community in the Apple Store

Every week or two, I pack my MacBook Air into its protective sleeve, pop it into my backpack and head out of my small town to the big city mall and the bustling, alternate universe known as the Apple Store.

Every appointment with one of the blue-T-shirted Apple experts has a technical goal. How do I put a different color shadow on a line of words in Pages? How do I fade out the background music in my iMovie? How do I manage all those photos? And how the heck does iCloud really work?

A blue-shirted sentry checks me in on his iPad and escorts me through the curious crowd to one of the blond wood, or faux wood, tables toward the back, just before you get to the Genius Bar. I pull out one of black stools and release my laptop from its case onto the table. Christian has already greeted me by name and asked what I want to learn today.

As I answer, I look around the table. To my right is a woman my age (not telling) putting together a slideshow of family photos.  Across from me is an older woman who has toted in a huge monitor along with a scanner and lots of questions. Other days at these one-on-one sessions, I’ve met teachers, retirees, marketing pros and people of all walks, each wanting to go deeper into their devices. Including the professional accordion player in his 70s or 80s who was making dozens of YouTube videos of his music. And the grizzled outdoorsman with his own TV show and social media to go with it.

The Apple Store is more than a store, and that’s the way Apple wants it. It’s been called an interactive museum. All the gleaming white and silver devices are live and internet-connected, ready to touch, explore and play with, or even buy. The store is busy with people of all descriptions and beyond description. Some wear suits or flip-flops, baggy jeans or what look like pajama bottoms. They have babies in strollers, kids in arms, backpacks and Dr. Dres.  I am surprised at how many are well over 60 or 70. All have questions and all are welcome. And blue shirts are everywhere, directing the organized chaos, iPads in hand.

Amidst all of this humanity, a small-town citizen looking for tech tips may feel overwhelmed, especially at first visit. But all the people, the smiling, on-task experts and their mandate to calmly engage and teach makes the experience quite bearable and even rewarding. All this human questioning and answering—and occasional well-modulated banter—is Apple’s way of solidifying brand loyalty, building a following that not only wants to buy, but belong.

Community is a word that means “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.” I guess you could say that there is, indeed, an Apple community. For better or worse, it’s my kind of town.