Either way, it's a sign of the times. But I still don't know if it's an ominous sign or an innocent one.
My wife had noticed the black sports utility vehicle in the parking lot of our youngest daughter's preschool several times, during the morning drop-off and occasionally in the afternoon when the parents picked up their kids. The man inside the vehicle never got out of the SUV. He seemed to have no children. He just sat there.
"You know, there may be a very good reason he's just sitting there," I told my wife. But I couldn't really think of any good reason. At any rate, we forgot about it for awhile, until yesterday morning, when my wife saw the man in the black SUV again, just sitting there in the parking lot. My wife told someone at the preschool, and this time, the police were called. They arrived after he had left, but my clever wife had taken down his license plate number, and the authorities tracked him down.
We learned this last night when we attended the preschool's annual art show, where parents bid on the students' artwork and try to raise money for the school. One of the staff members drew my wife aside and told her that the man admitted to the police that he had been there, but not to potentially steal a child. He was stealing Internet access from the church, where the preschool is located, picking up the free Wi-Fi signal.
Because that's pretty low on the crime chart, the police let him go, and I'm not questioning that decision. I'm sure they have his name and information, and I'm betting he won't be parking at this preschool again.
I'm also assuming that this guy probably was telling the truth. After all, we're in the midst of a shaky economy, and even though the preschool is in a fairly affluent area, there are a lot of houses up for sale around here. I can imagine this guy being unemployed, trying to hang onto his house, not to mention his family's sports utility vehicle, and having given up cable some time ago. So maybe he has been reduced to stealing the Internet signal from a church because he can't afford a drink at a coffeehouse or McDonald's.
And while Forbes came out a few months ago with a list of our most wireless cities -- Seattle came up at the top -- it's not like the country is anywhere near having 100% wireless capabilities. According to the American Library Association, across the country, 73% of libraries report that they're the only provider of free Internet access in their community.
Still, while I think this guy was probably telling the truth, I can't help but consider that stealing a nonprofit's wireless signal is a pretty good cover for any loiterer up to no good. I also know I'd feel better if last night, when leaving our preschool's fundraiser, we hadn't spotted -- just lying there in the parking lot -- an empty condom wrapper.
Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop. He's also the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America.
Leeching a church's free Wi-Fi? How low can you go?