This is a personal account, by Boston native Jonathan Rotenberg, about the day in 1981 he met Steve Jobs, who with Steve Wozniak was in town to attend “Applefest ’81,” a computer show Jonathan organized as a prodigious 18 year old. Rotenberg, who currently resides in Los Angeles, has a long history in computing. When he was only 13, he co-founded Boston’s Computer History Society. He is now President of Centriq Advisors, a management consulting firm for the high tech industry. Below I quote Jonathan’s account in its entirety. It’s remarkable for the humanity and kindness Jobs exhibited that day – particularly to young Jonathan.
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“On June 6, 1981, a very kind man named Bob Washburn (Northeast Regional Sales Manager of Apple Computer Inc.) made a dream come true for an 18-year old semi-geek named Jonathan Rotenberg. Bob convinced the cofounders of his company, Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak, to be keynote speakers at a computer show I organized in Boston called Applefest ’81.
“In this photo, taken that steamy Saturday afternoon at Boston’s Park Plaza Castle, the 26-year-old Steve J. is standing next to his just-launched Apple III. Little did Steve realize at this particular moment just how much the pimply 18-year-old Kid actually knew about him. The Kid had researched Steve in meticulous detail.
“Weeks before, the Kid had been in intense conversations with one of Boston’s top chefs, Odette Berry of Another Season restaurant (the location today of Lala Rokh on Beacon Hill). Odette and he (me) planned an exquisitely stylish and innovative seven-course, all-vegetarian dinner for Saturday night. Odette developed each recipe from scratch specially for Steve Jobs. With a warm and gentle British accent, she said: ‘Mind you, now, this won’t be any “hippie vegetarian” dinner. Each course will be extremely elegant and unique.’
“In 1981, a lot of teenagers idolized Blondie or Mick Jagger. That Saturday evening at Another Season, this 18-year-old found himself sitting in the presence of his greatest childhood hero. As the dinner began, the 26-year old may have had a hunch that, in this Kid, he had found someone who could appreciate his extraordinarily high standards. (FYI, six years later–after leaving Apple and founding NeXT and Pixar–Steve would say, in a biting, caustic phone voice: ‘You know, Jonathan, you can be an ANAL RETENTIVE JERK sometimes!’ Part of understanding Steve is knowing that ‘anal retentive jerk’ can be understood as an expression of esteem by one perfectionist to another …)
“The dinner guests seated around the table included the technology editor of the Wall Street Journal, Dick Schaffer; the publisher/founder of Inc. magazine, Bernie Goldhirsh; and the technology reporter of the Boston Globe. Each of the seven courses was crafted from fragrant, brilliantly colorful, just-picked spring vegetables. The guests seemed impressed. But the 18-year-old–so determined to raise himself to the soaring, monumental standards of the master–had something else up his pimply sleeve … He knew a truth about Steve that almost no one knew then. Many people knew that Steve had been a fruitarian for a number of years. But what virtually NO ONE knew was that Steve’s favorite fruit was NOT the apple; it was the strawberry.
“Odette had designed each course of the dinner to include a unique, innovative strawberry element within it. The 18-year old sat across the table, facing the 26-year-old master. A waiter appeared with the first course: a beautifully-designed glass platter made from a highly-polished mirror with gorgeous, ever-so-lightly prepared, gigantic strawberries, arranged like a work-of-art on the mirror. The 18-year old peered across the table and saw a grin appear on the face of the master. ‘We heard that you like strawberries,’ the Kid said. ‘Doesn’t everyone like strawberries?’ he replied, with a happy, boyish laugh. He then slid a large portion of the platter onto his plate …
“After dinner, I invited the guests to my parents’ townhouse on Beacon Hill for liqueurs and biscotti. As we walked up Mt. Vernon Street after dinner, it was close to the summer solstice. The setting Spring sun illuminated the gentle colonial brick townhouses, trees, and gas lamps of Beacon Hill. I had been waiting all day to to find an appropriate time to speak with Steve about the future of Applefest. As we walked together, I shared with him some challenges we had been struggling with in our collaboration with Apple’s marketing department. Steve put his arm around my shoulder and seemed to listen intently. He then reached into his jacket and pulled out a small leather box. ‘Here, Jonathan, I want to give this to you.’ (The box, I later discovered, contained a pure gold pen with the full-color Apple logo on its clip). After some further conversation, he said: ‘Jonathan, Could you call my assistant next week? I’d like to fly you out to California, so that we can sit down and talk about this.’
“There is a saying that ‘when the student is ready, the teacher appears.’ On June 6, 1981, the most important teacher of my lifetime appeared.”