I always get lost in Cupertino. Do I get off on Stevens Creek or De Anza? I curse Highways 85 and 280 and the indistinguishable grid of strip malls and car dealerships I’ve found myself locked in. I hold the home button on my iPhone until I hear the familiar chime. “How do I get to Infinite Loop?” I ask Siri.
Although my navigation skills are shaky at best, I grew up in Silicon Valley, and I know that before computer chips, this valley was known for its fruit. My parents remember walking through open plum, apricot and cherry orchards that contained more trees than people who lived in their small town. When you drive through the South Bay today, office buildings and suburban sprawl have largely supplanted these trees. The only fruit to speak of in this valley now is Apple.
While I’ve had far too few occasions to frolic through the few remaining orchards as a child, I did unwittingly meander across Apple’s campus every time my family drove along De Anza Boulevard near the 280 interchange in Cupertino. Along this stretch of road, seemingly omnipresent Apple employees identified by Apple badges wait to cross the busy intersection as they move in a steady stream between their ever-sprawling office buildings.
I carefully try to avoid these Apple workers as I pull onto Infinite Loop, the street that encircles Apple’s first campus. I see Apple’s sign and the address reads as One Infinite Loop, which is a reference to computer programming that goes completely over my head. The Apple employees I’ve met refer to it as “IL,” and it always seems to be on the tip of their tongues. “You have arrived at your destination,” says Siri.
Steve Jobs put Cupertino on the map, literally—Apple headquarters are the icon for the Apple Maps app. Jobs grew up in Cupertino, attending Cupertino Middle School and Homestead High School. When Apple was ready to leave Jobs’ parents’ garage, it began in earnest in Cupertino. And when Apple decided to build “the best office building in the world” with a second campus in Cupertino (both fondly and ominously referred to as the mothership), it firmly rooted itself in this dusty corner of the Silicon Valley.
Sitting in the center courtyard of IL1 as a lunch guest, it’s hard to remember I’m only 15 minutes from where I grew up. After devouring delicious sushi made by Toshi Sakuma, whom Jobs hired personally, I look up and notice senior vice president of design, Jony Ive, sitting one table over. I hear conversations in three different languages as I decide to return to the cafeteria for gelato and an espresso. When in Cupertino, right?
Cupertino doesn’t even have enough traffic to sustain its own Apple Store. There is, however, the Company Store at Infinite Loop with more Apple memorabilia than electronics. Shirts, hats, baby onesies and more boast Apple logos and ever changing catch phrases like, “iPhone, therefore I am,” and “The mothership has landed.” These can only be the products of a self-aware company poking fun at its iconic status and the need to have a gift shop at its corporate headquarters.
When I return to IL on a Sunday to take some photos, I am surprised to see families and tourists congregating around the office complex. Coming from places as far flung as Hong Kong and Russia, these Apple enthusiasts seem both worshipful and a little disappointed. Firstly that the Company Store is closed, and secondly, that there isn’t more to see on the campus or in the surrounding area. Maybe there is enough traffic after all?
A Vietnamese group by way of Los Angeles asks me to take their picture in front of the Infinite Loop sign. This is just one stop in their tour of the Silicon Valley. When I ask them what their impression of Cupertino is, they are silent. Maybe because I just told them I was from around here.
“It seems disconnected,” the non-Apple lover in the group declares. “San Francisco is much more vibrant.”
As I drive away from IL, I see one of many construction projects underway, with a sign that reads, “Welcome to Downtown Cupertino.” I can’t help but laugh.
Established in 1955, it may seem that Cupertino could not exist without Apple. However, it's Apple that truly needs Cupertino to humble its infallible monolithic posturing. In the low-quality video below, Jobs addresses a mostly empty Cupertino City Council on Apple's 30th anniversary and explains its decision to stay. Without a keynote presentation, without a legion of followers, it is easier to see Jobs as just another Cupertino constituent.
Apple is moving veritable mountains along Homestead Road. Before the mothership lands, take a look around so you can say you knew Cupertino when.