Great Stories of Steve Jobs As a Regular Guy

BY Rounak Jain

Published 18 Nov 2012

Steve Jobs was known to have quite a personality within Apple, as documented in his biography as well as the countless incidents recounted by former and current Apple employees on the internet. But his personality outside of Apple, as a “regular guy,” hasn’t been talked about as much.

A curious Quora user asked the site’s large community to share stories about Jobs as a “regular guy.”

We reproduce some of the best answers here.

Tim Smith’s answer is perhaps one of the best ones. He recollects an incident where his car broke down in front of Jobs’ house in Palo Alto, and how the Jobs family went out of their way to help him:

One afternoon I attended a party, driving an old Sunbeam Alpine sports car I had the misfortune to own at the time (…). After the party, I started the Alpine, pulled away from the curb, and – as classic British sports cars will oft do – the electrical system blinked out and I coasted gracefully to a stop, directly in front of the Jobs’ driveway.

Their cars weren’t there, which was a relief to me, because I was sure they would consider me some weird stalker. So I got out, popped the hood and tried to quick-fix the electrical to at least move further away – and call AAA.

Within about 15 minutes, of course, I heard two cars pull in behind me, and into the Jobs’ driveway – the Jobs were home. I huddled under the hood of the Alpine and hoped they wouldn’t notice – although I was the only other car on the street. They went inside, with kids, thankfully, without saying anything. So I closed the hood and prepared to walk back next door to my girlfriend’s parents house to call AAA.

As I was putting my jacket on, I heard a call from across the street behind me – the Jobs’ driveway – “British or Italian?”. It was Jobs’ lovely wife Laurene. “British,” I said, “and acting like it.” “You want a beer?,” she said. I tried to decline (shocked I guess at first), but she insisted, said “you’re not going anywhere”, and walked back in the house – only to return with two bottles of beer.

I was determined not to let on that I knew exactly who I was talking to – I was so afraid of being cast a stalker – but the scene was already getting weird for me, standing by my broken car having a beer with Steve Job’s wife. So it got weirder.

“You know, we have a friend who knows all about these Sunbeams. We should call him.”

I begged her not to, that I’d call AAA and be on my way. She left her beer and went back in the house for a minute, only to return saying, “they’re on their way out, but said they would drop by to take a look.”

By this point I am fully resigned to whatever story is going to play out. It was starting to dawn on me that these were not just Silicon Valley elite – they were real people, just helping a poor guy out. It was just unexpected, given what you might think about people like this: it would have been so easy for them to just ignore me. Or call the police.

Within about 15 minutes a very long, very black car I won’t identify pulled up and – Felini could not have directed this – a handsome gentleman in (I think) a tuxedo, and a beautifully formally dressed wife emerged, to examine my car. This was Laurene’s friend, the Sunbeam mechanic.

I protested, all was ignored. The tuxedoed man (who to this day I have no idea who he was – I’ll call him James Bond) took off his jacket, opened the hood of my car, and commenced to fishing around inside, while we all visited amicably.

So Steve comes out.

At which point – being an admirer of Jobs for many years – I guess I knew was inevitable, and I both dreaded and anticipated it. He ambled over. I think he had a beer too. And asked what was going on. He was joined by one of the kids.

The Jobs’ made small talk and joked with their friends – dressed to the nines, repairing my car – while I politely thanked them over and over and tried not to throw up at the insanity of the scene. And then of course it got even weirder, or funnier, depending on whether you were me or not.

James Bond told someone to try to crank the car. I was talking with Laurene, so Jobs actually sits down in the Alpine and tries to crank it – with his kid sitting behind him. To no avail.

So I have to stop here – it’s a Kodak moment – something you want to remember. It’s a beautiful Fall evening in Palo Alto. Your car’s broken. A formally dressed close friend of Steve Jobs is under the hood working on your engine. You are talking with Steve’s absolutely lovely and down to earth wife. Steve is in the car, with his kid, trying to crank it.

That’s the moment. You don’t often get close to people like the Jobs, much less in a ridiculous situation like this, where you realize that they are just really good people. They’re normal, funny, charitable, real people. Not the people the press talks about. Steve is not the maniacal business and design despot the media loves to portray – well he is, but not always. These were real, nice, people.

But still Steve Jobs. The car didn’t start. James Bond got his tuxedo back together, apologized to me (!) for not being able to fix it. Said it was the electrical (of course). They said their goodbyes and departed in their giant silent black car. Steve said something like “piece of shit” as he got out, and walked back into the house. Classic Steve – he was right.

Laurene said “come inside and use the phone”. Still rolling with it at this point, I followed her into the house, stepping over the dirty laundry you find in everyone’s real house (…), and into the kitchen where she pointed me to a phone with god knows how many lines on it. I called AAA, thanked Laurene profusely (for the 50th time) and left quietly. I never acknowledged I had any idea who they were.

A week later, I dropped a six pack of beer off at the Jobs’ door, with a note saying thanks. Like anyone would have done I guess.

Steve’s email exchanges were pretty popular as well, where he replied to messages from fans and naysayers in his characteristic brevity. Here’s one such incident by Michael Smith:

Prior to his return to Apple, it was obvious that the company was in trouble. Larry Ellison had floated the idea of a hostile takeover of the company, but it seemed to some of us Apple watchers that then-CEO Gil Amelio’s turnaround plan might work.

I wrote an impassioned email to Steve at Pixar, pleading with him to find something else to do with his time. “Please,” I implored him, “don’t come back to Apple, you’ll ruin it.”

At the time, I really thought Steve and Larry were just twisting the knife into an already struggling company. As I made my living on Macs, I wanted the company to survive and not be distracted by Steve and Larry’s games.

Shortly thereafter, Steve emailed me. He explained what he was trying to do, and that he was trying to save Apple.

And then he wrote the words I’ll never forget:

“You may be right. But if I succeed, remember to look in the mirror and call yourself an asshole for me.”

Consider it done, Steve. I could not have been more mistaken.

Another email sent to Jobs makes for a really interesting read. Remember Steve up on stage during WWDC 2010 talking about the few months old iPad? He presented this slide:

Here’s the backstory to this slide, courtesy Verbs app developer Chaitanya Pandit:

This was in June ’10 just a few days before Apple’s WWDC. I was working late out of a cafe and was testing one of my apps on the iPad. This was in India and at that time the iPad hadn’t been officially launched here, so was something that would definitely catch someone’s eye.

There was this girl sitting on the next table and was pretty curious about this new thing, moments later she stopped by and we had a nice chat about how cool the iPad is, and was pretty impressed that I could actually write an app that could run on it.

I went home and before going to bed wrote a short email to Steve about how an  iPad got a girl interested in me and almost forgot about it until…. Days later, it was his WWDC keynote and I was following a few live blogs that night as I always do (I was GMT +5:30), then suddenly I saw something that was very familiar, it was my email that Steve displayed on the huge screen behind him. He said “It is magical, I know it because I got this email: I was sitting in a café with my iPad, and it got a girl interested in me!.” “So there’s proof.

Here’s another recollection of a brief encounter with Steve by Michael Chang, who was an intern at Apple:

I met Steve Jobs randomly while working as an intern at Apple in the summer of 2010.  I had stepped into an elevator on the main Apple campus when, just as the door was closing, Steve Jobs strolled in.  He saw that I had an intern badge on, and asked me what I was working on over the summer.

When he asked me this question, I wasn’t sure what to say.  Should I tell him what I was working on, and risk getting in trouble for disclosing what I was working on (as we had been instructed not to do during orientation), or should I just tell him that I wasn’t allowed to tell him?

I went with the latter, telling him, “Sorry, but I’m not supposed to tell you.” Steve flashed a smile, chuckled a little, and stepped out of the elevator.

The Quora thread has 43 responses so far, and all of them are worth a read.