Chasing Woz, and a Movie Review (of sorts)

For some time now, I’ve been waiting to make this grand statement: Me and Woz, our paths crossed a couple of years ago. An uptight bunch invited him for a talk in Bangalore. Word from the top landed in the newsroom that Apple’s Co-founder Steve Wozniak is coming to Bangalore.

My binge drinking days are behind me. Yet, when it was my turn to go watch the Jobs movie last Friday, I knocked off an extra peg, just to make sure that I’m in the right frame of mind. Here’s the review: I hate the movie as much as I hate Ashton Kutcher as much as I hate his freaking monkey walk as much as I hate the thought of seeing Steve Wozniak being aped by Josh Gad. If you want a second opinion, read this review of the Steve Jobs biopic.

For some time now, I’ve been waiting to make this grand statement: Me and Woz, our paths crossed a couple of years ago. An uptight bunch invited him for a talk in Bangalore. Word from the top landed in the newsroom that Apple’s Co-founder Steve Wozniak is coming to Bangalore. The “gods” wanted an interview. After frantically working the phone, my colleagues found out that it was something called the Young President Association (an organisation with which I never want to have anything to do with ever in my life again) that was bringing Woz to Bangalore.

We got in touch with the organisers and were stonewalled from every angle. In the evening, when I went back to office after the coffee routine, I was handed a piece of paper to deliver to Woz at his hotel. It had our contact number and a handwritten paragraph written by my editor asking for his interview. My job, was to deliver it.

Clearly, we weren’t welcome at the five star hotel which otherwise entertains the press. I called up a friend from another newspaper and reached the hotel. We’d figured out his room number from a Facebook post the previous day. Being Woz, he’d shared a clever play on the room number (it was in binary), on his Facebook page.

Entry to the rooms were restricted. We had to sneak in, James Bond style (without the gun or the sauve). We walked into the lift, head held high. The damn thing wouldn’t go up unless you had an access card to one of the rooms upstairs. We summoned the “bell boy,” and asked him to swipe his card. We went to his room and slipped the note under his door, hoping that he would find it.

Steve Wozniak, Image Credit: Wikipedia
Steve Wozniak in 1983, Image Credit: Wikipedia

That December evening, I went home and read most parts of iWoz, an autobiography of Steve Wozniak published in 2006. It was an easy read, written by Wozniak & Gina Smith, in fairly simple and easy going style many say is typical of Woz. It walked you through his childhood, growing up, blue box, cream soda computer and the invention of Apple II. The parts I liked most were his days in college, phreaking, jamming television sets and all that. I also took an immediate liking to the Woz who gave away his part of Apple stock to friends whom Jobs had cut off from the company and the Woz who built things for fun. One look at the pictures in the book from the 70s and the days of the US festival in the 80s, you can tell that the Woz in the movie was not even close to a caricature of the real Woz.

For me, the book was more interesting compared to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs. Perhaps because the biography borrowed heavily (and I don’t mean plagiarized) from the Woz book, some parts kind of repeated for me. That is also what makes the movie all the more terrible. It repeated things that a Jobs fan would already know.

The next day Woz was supposed to give a talk to the “Young Presidents,” whom I had come to detest by now. We landed up early. Our editor, two of my colleagues and I walked into the hotel. Unlike on other days, I made sure that I dressed well, so the gatekeepers won’t ask too many questions. We parked ourselves near the area where breakfast was being served.

Woz was there, having breakfast. Kids and wives of “young presidents” were posing for pictures with Woz who was clearly jet lagged. As he rushed past us, my colleague from the television channel, called out: “Woz…Woz,” and he turned around.

“Can you please speak to us?”

“Sure. Why don’t you give me a call after the event and we can talk?”

“Thanks. Can I have your number?”

“Yeah, its xxxxxxxxx”

“Thanks Woz.”

There it was. Almost done.

That evening, our colleague from the Television channel called him up and set up a short interview. Someone from the YPO was “protecting” Woz from the paparazzi. Three of us got in but the security guards won’t let the cameras in. We waited for our colleague to come in and it was about 3 minutes past the appointed time. The Woz protector came down and gave us the bad news.

“You can’t talk to him anymore.”

We had no choice but to leave. Our colleague from the channel was almost in tears.

To the three of us, our editor said: “We gave it our best. That is what matters.” That evening we went back, disappointed and relieved at the same time.

For me, it was perhaps like how Woz in the movie felt when the Homebrew computer club failed to share his enthusiasm about the Apple I.  By the way, the movie shows Steve Jobs forcing Woz to the Homebrew club. That’s not accurate either. Wozniak was a regular at the club already and was showing off his designs at Wednesday meetings. He even talks about how people would take one look at his computer and see the future*.

Couple of days later, when we’d almost forgotten about this, our colleague from the TV called up Woz on the phone and wrote up the interview. Ever since, I’ve been itching to write about the experience and looks like I just did that. So some good did come out of the movie.

If you must watch, watch this interview instead.

* iWoz, Steve Wozniak, Gina Smith, P 168.

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