Tales from the Genius Bar — Chapter Two: How the Genius stole Christmas

An elf in an Apple Store
(Image credit: Future / Adobe Firefly)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the managers flailing and everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer.” It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

That is, of course, unless you happen to be hunting the most sought-after present of that particular Christmas — or have to be the poor, lowly shop assistant temp to serve it.

Tales from the Genius Bar

Tales from the Genius Bar

(Image credit: Future)

The world of Apple Retail revealed through the eyes of ex-employees with wonderful and weird tales to tell.

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The holiday season at Apple Retail, just like any other store, is a time of immense pressure, with thousands of people passing through the doors every single day in the lead-up to Christmas. For many, it was indeed the most wonderful time of the year, but for others, you couldn’t get paid enough to sell iPhones and iPads to demanding customers in an overly busy environment.

At Apple, whether you work at the Genius Bar or in the Product Zone (the area with products for sale), when December comes around, everyone becomes an elf — because nothing says I love you more than a panic-bought Apple TV 4K purchased on December 24.

It’s the place where thousands of customers arrive late to their appointments and demand service; The place where handing a phone covered in your bodily fluids over to a stranger is deemed acceptable; The place where you entrust technicians with your most beloved memories and your deepest, darkest secrets. Welcome to the Apple Store, a place I called home for many a year and a place that has many a tale to be told. You’ll want to hear about all of them — but you’ll wish you could forget half of them. Believe me, I’ve tried. Read Chapter One.

Do you have your own tale to tell from the world of Apple Retail? Let us know via X @TalesGeniusBar or via email

Disclaimer: These events are based on a true story. All names and likenesses have been changed but every single weird, grotesque, funny, or wholesome anecdote happened within the walls of an Apple Store somewhere out there.

I am the Genius that stole Christmas... and I'm sorry

Tales from the Genius Bar

(Image credit: Future)

I still remember my first call up to the world of Apple. It was November, and I was asked if I was physically fit enough to do a Christmas temp job as a Product Zone Runner, bringing products from the stockroom shelves to the hands of excited customers — I was the definition of a real-life elf.

It was not only my first experience working at Apple but also my first experience working in retail. I came into the building with a chip on my shoulder, aiming to prove that I was “too good to be a temp.”

All I wanted to do was prove I was good enough to get a permanent role at Apple, and nothing would burst my bubble or destroy my pride as the best runner around town. Nothing at all until my fateful encounter on that dark Christmas Eve with Jeanette, a mother of two with a point to prove.

That holiday season, I was in the best shape of my life, sprinting up and down stairs eight hours a day, making sure that three-year-old kids got the iPhone they’d wanted their whole lives.

That holiday season, I was in the best shape of my life, sprinting up and down stairs eight hours a day, making sure that three-year-old kids got the iPhone they’d wanted their whole lives.

For anyone who hasn’t worked in Apple Retail, let me take you behind the curtain and explain the runner role. With an iPhone attached to a scanner, I’d sit in the stock room, spinning in my chair, contemplating the world and thinking about my hatred towards unnecessary holiday gifting. Back then, in my youth, some said I was the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ Grinch.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

(Image credit: How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

Spinning on the chair, I’d wait for one of my colleagues above deck to put in a request for a product, then jump up into action, sprinting around the stockroom, scanning the iPad box or whatever it was, and heading upstairs from the depths to hand over the purchase with a smile on my face. Later on in my career at Apple, I would end up at the Genius Bar, but thinking back to my time in the stockroom, I’m going out on a limb to say that during that period, I was the best runner the Apple world had ever seen.

I’d try to beat my personal best every time the alert came through on the system, each time scanning quicker and running faster. I was in a league of my own, competing with myself in the same way Lionel Messi is head and shoulders above any other soccer player to have ever played the game. I’d finish my shifts absolutely dead on my feet, but I’d go to bed smiling at the thought of my incredible delivery time stats. It was a simpler life back then. I’d come to work wearing an anti-Christmas sweater my personal favorite was a reindeer skeleton), but deep down, I loved being the cog that kept the store ticking throughout the holidays, and I’d have done anything to make any paying customer happy.

Christmas Eve at the Apple Store is chaotic. People trying to pick up last-minute presents means overspending on products their loved ones probably don’t even want just for the sake of giving. A personal favorite was keeping tabs on the number of Apple TVs sold over December 23 and 24 compared to the rest of the year. I kid you not, an Apple TV panic buy is a real thing — so if you ever receive or have received one of Apple’s streaming boxes on Christmas morning, just know your loved one left your gift until the last minute.

I digress. Back to the tale of Jeanette on that dark and dreary Christmas Eve. 

It was around 4 PM, and the store closed in roughly 30 minutes with no sign of the huge crowds of people calming down. I’d spent the last two months proving myself, but I wasn’t going to slow down any time soon. Yeah, I was a Grinch at home, but in the Apple Store, I was Santa’s little helper and on a mission to make Christmas as special as it could be for all those involved.

A woman with a santa hat on and a headset

(Image credit: Getty / iStock)

After delivering an Apple TV, I had started to make my way back towards the entrance to the stockroom when a high-pitched voice called over for assistance, “Excuse me, excuse me,” she yelled.

I looked around, and from within the sea of people, I saw a 30-something mom pushing a pram with a young child inside. She stood at the Music Bay (where all the headphones and speakers were) and waited for someone to acknowledge her existence. I was a runner, I hadn’t been trained to speak to people. I was just a runner — nothing more, nothing less.

I decided to do the right thing and help a civilian on Christmas Eve, just like old Saint Nick would’ve wanted. I started to head over to the Music Bay. “Where’s the AirPods?” she said in a harsh tone, “I need AirPods.” My Apple Core training hadn’t prepared me for this. I didn’t know how to reply, but considering she didn’t look too pleased, I needed to do my best to soften the situation and save Christmas.

“Hello there, I’m (insert name here). How can I help?” She looked me up and down, noticing the sweat dripping from my forehead from the third marathon I’d run that day, and scoffed, “I’m Jeanette. And I want AirPods.” 

This particular Christmas was Christmas 2017, and in 2017, the hottest gift for the holiday season were the original AirPods, so finding a pair towards the end of the day on Christmas Eve was more difficult than Arnie finding a Turbo Man back in 1996.

AirPods on shelf

(Image credit: Getty / Bloomberg)

“Let me check for you. I think they’re out of stock, but I’ll have a look. Please bear with me, and I’ll be right back.” She rolled her eyes, but I let it go and headed downstairs to ask one of my supervisors if there were any AirPods left in the building. 

One thing I learned from my time at Apple was never to over-promise because customers will always hold you accountable, even if you’re trying to do a good deed. I frantically looked under tables, scrambling for AirPods, but there was no white box of hope to be seen. I started rummaging through empty boxes and looked through iPhone stock in case the earbuds had been misplaced — I even searched the stockroom’s bin.

As expected, the AirPods were completely sold out, so I headed back upstairs to break the news to Jeanette and hope she’d take it well. I still remember that sense of dread as I came to the top of the stairs and saw her face at the Music Bay — it gives me chills to this day.

“I’m really sorry, but we’ve completely sold out of the AirPo…” Before I could even finish my sentence, the woman was screaming in my face, “EXCUSE ME. YOU DON’T HAVE AIRPODS? IS THIS SOME KIND OF SICK JOKE?” 

She turns the pram towards me and starts pointing at her young child, who must’ve been no older than four, “ARE YOU GOING TO TELL MY SON THAT YOU’VE RUINED CHRISTMAS OR SHALL I?”

I was just a young up-and-coming runner, hoping to get a permanent role at my local Apple Store. How had I ended up looking straight into the Eye of Sauron on Christmas Eve?

“YOU’RE A F****** GRINCH. YOU’VE STOLEN CHRISTMAS”, she sneered as the guilt of the world fell upon my shoulders. How dare I not have AirPods in stock? How dare I not leave a pair aside for this young mother?

I looked around, hoping anyone could save me from my sins. But it was too busy, and no one could hear my cry for help. “ALL I WANTED WAS SOME AIRPODS. YOU KNOW WHAT F*** THIS.” She grabbed her pram and pushed that child out of the front door faster than Lightning McQueen in the Piston Cup, the rage emanating from her body.

I stood there for a second, baffled at what just happened, and I vowed never to work in a customer-facing role ever again. Two weeks later, I was offered a permanent position as a Technical Specialist at the Genius Bar — the rest is history.

Tales of the Genius Bar is a bi-weekly column exclusive to iMore. Do you have your own tale to tell from the world of Apple Retail? Let us know via X @TalesGeniusBar or via email

The Genius
Fixer of iPhones, teller of tales

He has seen it all, from disgusting AirPods to bugs inside Apple devices. There's not much that phases the Genius. After working in Apple Retail at the Genius Bar for years, he is ready to tell the tales of some of the whackiest, most wonderful, and straight-up weird customer interactions to grace the hallowed turf.

With a knowledge of all things Apple, join the Genius as he embarks on a journey to collate the best stories from the world of Apple Retail — you won't believe your ears. If you've got a hilarious or crazy anecdote you want the world to know about, reach out to the Genius via @TalesGeniusBar on X and share your story — he's sure to turn it into a tale for the ages.

This is the world of Apple retail like you've never seen or heard it before. Welcome to Tales from the Genius Bar.