Buck’s of Woodside doesn’t just serve eggs or coffee or toast. It serves you biomechanical sharks and surfing crocodiles. Sometimes, it even serves you up a photograph of Steve Jobs so incredible, so deserved of being considered iconic, that you simply can’t believe that no one has ever even heard of it. But for twenty-three years, no one has.
Breakfast at Buck’s
Buck’s — a must-see way station on any pilgrimage to Silicon Valley — is more than just the famous flapjack house where venture capitalists and tech moguls come to ink the deals that shape our digital age. It’s a museum of Americana, seen through the lens of Silicon Valley; a wunderkammer where you are just as likely to find a framed California GOOGLE license (caption: “I was too dumb to buy the stock but I bought the plate.”) as you are a correspondence between Buck’s and the Kremlin attempting to iron out a deal to buy the corpse of Lenin. (Moscow insisted any deal would have to be made in person.)
I was at Buck’s not to meet with the Valley’s fiercest moguls, but for breakfast. Having been brought to San Francisco to meet my girlfriend’s favorite aunt, I was now awkwardly walking around Buck’s squinting at the walls over my perturbed fellow diner’s heads, all at the command of that sweet, smart general of an octogenarian who had let it be known (in so many words) that any bozo who didn’t truly appreciate Buck’s was too much of a bozo to date her great niece.
Too iconic not to be known, the equivalent of that photo of Einstein sticking his tongue out…
That was when I found it. The best photograph of Steve Jobs I had ever seen. It showed the enfant terrible himself in his wilderness years, sitting in front of the Rosetta Stone, playfully grinning at the camera through a pair of Groucho Marx glasses.
Over the years covering the Apple beat, I’ve seen pretty much every photograph of Steve Jobs there is. I’d never seen one like this. Not only did it show a playful side of Steve that I had never seen, but it seemed somehow too iconic to not be known; the Infinite Loop equivalent of that photograph of Einstein sticking his tongue out. I couldn’t believe a photograph like this could be hanging in obscurity on the wall of Buck’s when Apple could have just as easily slapped “THINK DIFFERENT” on the bottom of it and made it known to every Mac lover on the planet.
I had to know more.
The Story Of Steve Jobs’s Builder
It’s odd that a photograph of Steve Jobs would be hanging in Buck’s to begin with.
Steve Jobs never ate at Buck’s, despite the fact that the restaurant’s owner, Jamis MacNiven, once worked as Jobs’s builder. Of course, it’s because of MacNiven’s history with Steve that there was no love lost between them.
“I knew Steve when he was 24. This is before he had polished his meanness into an ultra sharp, obsidian blade of cruelty,” MacNiven told me over the telephone.
When they were both younger men, MacNiven had worked on restoring Steve Jobs’s first house in Los Gatos, right around the time Apple was going public. For a builder or a designer trying to work with Jobs, it was a maddening experience. Jobs couldn’t even make a decision on the color of paint. According to MacNiven, Jobs “had almost this Asperger’s like quality, where if two things seemed almost equal, he simply couldn’t pick one… he’d get furious at the paralysis he felt when things were not obviously superior to other things.”
“There is a majesty to not cluttering your life with a lot of stuff,” MacNiven admits. “But Steve was the kind of guy who would choose to sit on the floor because there was no couch good enough.”
Eventually, this pickiness ended up causing a rift between MacNiven and Jobs, and Jobs famously avoided Buck’s after MacNiven opened the diner in 1991. Before they fell out, though, MacNiven, Jobs and their respective girlfriends went out to celebrate Jobs’s birthday at the well-known restaurant Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi’s in Mountain View.
At the dinner, MacNiven’s girlfriend handed out Groucho glasses to everyone for some fun and laughs. The group gamely put the glasses on and started to mug, but the birthday boy would not. Instead, he stared distastefully at the Groucho glasses in his palm, and balked. When pressured to put them on, he raised a a stink, then sulked.
“He just didn’t want to put the Groucho glasses on,” MacNiven told me, laughing.
It was a small thing — typical Steve — but the strange little tantrum over the Groucho glasses stuck with MacNiven, and so when a friend forwarded him an email from a photographer friend at the end of 2012 that showed a picture of Steve — the man once so unwilling to sully his dignity in a fake nose, eyebrows and moustache — playfully mugging it up like Groucho Marx, he had to have a print.
So he reached out to the photographer.