I guess the topic du jour is the death of Steve Jobs, and I don’t have much to add to the thousands of words already committed to paper and pixels today. My first steps onto the digital path were with the first IBM PC, which I bought secondhand from a guy who was headed on an open-ended, Jobsian journey to Europe. It worked OK for what it was — a very expensive typewriter — but once the loud, noisy printer died, I went back to using my Smith-Corona and left the thing on my desk to collect dust. A decade later, I bought my first Mac, and haven’t looked back.
Here’s why: In the early ’80s, I took a trip to Paris. The flight originated in New York; I found it in the back pages of the Village Voice. People’s Express was running its rock-bottom fares to New York at the time, and I cobbled together a package that got me from Columbus to Paris for about $500, a $200 savings over a traditional ticket. I had to arrange my own transportation from LaGuardia to Kennedy airports, but I fancied myself a brave, resourceful traveler, and this was only proof of my awesomeness.
It all worked fine getting there, but getting home was something else. The trip was a charter, which meant we weren’t committed to a particular airline, and on the way home, it was Alitalia. Every stereotype you ever heard about how Italians run things? It was like that. The flight was hours late leaving. We’d been in the air only a little while when the ice ran out, then the drinking water, then the water in the tanks that flushed the toilets. Before long, the passengers broke out their duty-free liquor purchases and started sharing bottles. The flight attendants did their best to put a stop to this, but as one belligerent man bellowed, in a voice loud enough to reach the entire coach cabin, “I’ll be goddamned if I’ll pay three bucks a pop to drink your hot booze when I can have my own.”
The drunken conviviality was a welcome break, and if nothing else, it helped everyone get to sleep, but as we approached New York and people started waking up, they were headachey and the toilets still weren’t flushing. We landed, and one of the loudest and drunkest of the complaining passengers immediately stood up to stretch his legs. The little Italian steward told him to take his seat. Nothing. The steward got up and approached him. The passenger continued to stand. The steward extended his hand, and…IF YOU PUT YOUR GREASY FUCKING HANDS ON ME, YOU WILL REGRET IT.
It was a genuinely scary moment. The steward wisely retreated.
We all deplaned. I’d missed my connection, and was now in Kennedy Airport, it was nighttime and I was probably broke. Fortunately, Jeff Borden was in New York for a TV critics’ convention, and had a double room at a Hilton in midtown Manhattan. I took the train to the plane in the opposite direction — thanking God it was an express, as we passed through those infamous, pre-Giuliani subway stations, filled with lurking wraiths — before shlepping my bags into Jeff’s room and collapsing on the bed.
I rebooked my People’s Express flight the next morning, and as we winged our way to Ohio, I asked myself if I’d have paid $200 to avoid the previous 24 hours, to get on a nice Air France or Pan Am jet at Orly and get off at Port Columbus, skipping Alitalia and the nonfunctioning toilets and the angry passenger and the train to the plane and all the rest of it, and thought: Oh, hell yes.
Years later, as I was contemplating the purchase of another computer, I learned that formatting a floppy in MS-DOS required me to type…
FORMAT drive: /C
…plus some other stuff, and if I got so much as a comma or space in the wrong place, it wouldn’t work. And if I bought the PowerPC Mac laptop I was considering, I would face a simple question: This disk is not formatted. Would you like to format it?, followed by a yes/no click option.
The Mac was a few hundred dollars more than the PC. I remembered the lesson of Alitalia. I clicked Yes, and haven’t looked back.
Jobsian bloggage today: Walter Mossberg remembers.
EDIT: Hank Stuever sums it up, and on deadline. We love us some Hank.
Bumper sticker I saw last night in Detroit: JESUS DIDN’T TAP OUT. I laffed all the way downtown.
And that’s it for me. I have to go format a day of work.