Breaking the Surface

Yesterday, as everyone knows, marked the launch of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 tablet. In ten different NFL cities, including Washington DC, one of the NFL’s most conspicuous sponsors celebrated its new product by hosting player meet-and-greets at local Microsoft Store locations. A few hundred Redskins fans (only the first 200 of whom would actually receive meet-and-greet tickets) journeyed to Pentagon City Fashion Centre (that’s what it’s called, I swear) to meet and greet quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was just over 24 hours removed from some late-game heroics in a comeback win against Tampa Bay.

It’s hard to imagine the queuing area would’ve been full if the previous day’s game had turned out differently, as it seemed it would when the Redskins were on the sour end of a 24-0 score midway through the second quarter. The Microsoft event had several things working against it. First, it was at the Microsoft Store, which averages one-tenth the number of customers the Apple Store does at any given time, and is only slightly more popular than places like Vitamin Shoppe, and the weird abandoned store that’s only open in October and sells overpriced Halloween costumes made of tissue paper. If you’ve ever been to the Microsoft Store, or even just walked by it, you know the experience is most notable for the stares of its employees, who desperately want customers, but just as desperately want to avoid human interaction.

If the prospect of setting foot in the Microsoft Store was not a sufficient deterrent to potential autograph seekers, the promise of meeting Kirk Cousins was certainly not going to be much of a draw. Until two days ago, Cousins was widely considered a mediocre quarterback in every respect. His greatest accomplishment–especially in the eyes of DC lifers–was not being named Robert Griffin III. As a piece of comedy, this article was going to write itself. I even had a headline planned and everything: Terrible Quarterback Of Terrible Team Hawks Terrible Product At Terrible Store In Decent Mall. (It’s been under construction for two years, but it has a Popeyes and a Which Wich. You take the good with the bad.)

But then Cousins and the Redskins went out and tossed my pre-fab narrative right into the shredder. Cousins completed 34 of 40 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns, and also scored once on the ground. His final touchdown, a six-yard pass in the closing seconds to tight end Jordan Reed, allowed the Redskins to take the lead from an admittedly pitiful Tampa Bay squad. Even though their opponent was tame, the home ‘Skins showed some fight that their fans haven’t seen in recent seasons, and a widely distributed video of a brief but vociferous display of emotion from Cousins has only led his supporters to warm up to him even further.

I was mostly bummed about the Redskins’ reversal, because it meant I would have to put some actual effort into writing this piece, and it also meant snagging a place in the meet-and-greet line would require an early arrival. This was a sacrifice I was not willing to make, dear readers. I’m one of the top 15 most famous sportswriters at Crooked Scoreboard; why should I have to stoop to the level of the plebes to get access to athletes? Indeed, when I arrived at 5:40 PM for the six o’clock event, the queue outside of the store was filled to capacity, a cadre of mall cops turning away any wannabe entrants. But that was okay, since being stuck in line would have restricted my ability to document the occasion from all angles. If I went into the store like an actual customer, I could case the whole joint, and discreetly people-watch different segments of the crowd. But that meant an even tougher challenge was ahead of me: I had to pretend to be interested in purchasing Microsoft products.

I walked in and tried to busy myself at one of the keyboard-adorned tablets, but a saleswoman swooped into action, welcomed me to the store, and told me that Microsoft was launching its Surface Pro 4. There was only one of them on display in the store, she said, over there, and I pretended to look where she pointed. I sat down in a spot that I thought would give me the best view of the crowd and the Autograph Area, a mysterious, magical space behind a large glass wall in the back of the store, where fans bestowed with the privilege of The Lanyard could meet Cousins and get their pictures taken. (With about 50 Microsoft logos in the background behind them, of course. Because the best memento is also an advertisement.)

Cousins arrived at a quarter to six, flanked by two guards and two men in suits. The crowd cheered when he entered, a sign of the good will he had fostered with his first great performance in a winning effort since Week 2 of the 2014 season. It’s possible they applauded because a good-looking person had just entered the Microsoft Store for the first time ever, but probably not. He was inches from me, close enough that I could feel the swish of air as he passed. If he had looked at me and said, “You like that? You like that?” while I was fiddling around with some tablet, I probably would’ve had no choice but to purchase it at once.

Cousins and his crew made their way back to the Autograph Area, and I thought about what could have happened if the Redskins had lost. I may have unwittingly become a crime reporter, if some crazy weapon-wielding malcontent had made his (or her*) way into the line. Maybe Cousins would have cancelled his appearance altogether for fear of that very possibility, or maybe just because of a bad mood. Fans definitely wouldn’t have been patient enough to deal with a 15-minute delay, but in this case, they were. Not one grumble came from the crowd of freebie seekers, and my limited life experience has taught me that freebie seekers complain more loudly than anyone else in the world. I guess Redskins fans are pretty used to coping with disappointment.

Wofford fans love Kirk Cousins almost as much as they love their... Wildcats? Wolverines? Platypuses? Yeah, Platypuses.

Wofford fans love Kirk Cousins almost as much as they love their… Wildcats? Wolverines? Platypuses? Yeah, Platypuses.


Kirk Cousins is the teeny-tiny man in the middle of this photo, wearing a green shirt.

Kirk Cousins is the teeny-tiny man in the middle of this photo, wearing a green shirt.


While pretending to be a real customer I saw the Parrot Bebop Drone, which seems like the weirdest-named and coolest thing ever.

While pretending to be a real customer I saw the Parrot Bebop Drone, which seems like the weirdest-named and coolest thing ever.

When the line finally started progressing forward, everyone seemed pleased with the results of their trip. I continued to snap pictures (on my iPhone, no less) and eavesdrop as slyly as I could, but when the salespeople’s inquiries shifted from “How can I help you?” to “Is everything okay?,” I decided that was my signal to leave. I departed feeling impressed that Kirk Cousins had transformed an event that looked on paper like it would be a dumpster fire into something only mildly cheesy. At long last, someone’s starting to break through with the Redskins faithful. Will Cousins’ inroads remain if the Redskins can’t keep winning? Probably not, but maybe he’s set an example for his new friends at Microsoft, who so desperately yearn to have more than three people in their store. If Kirk Cousins can get Redskins fans excited, the Surface can become the new iPad. Microsoft folks just need to have a little faith.

Then everyone at the meet-and-greet went directly to the mall’s movie theater, where they all saw Steve Jobs.

*just kidding; it would definitely be a guy


Dustin Petzold is a writer who enjoys acting shiftily in technology stores. When he is not doing that, he is sometimes on Twitter.