Strange Happenings at the Book Store

December 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Tough Love Stories

This post is only tangentially related to personal finance but I felt a need to write about my experience as a remote worker anyway.

Yesterday I had to drive Mrs. ToughMoneyLove to a couple of doctor appointments. I took my netbook with me so that I could get some work done while I waited. This necessitated finding a location that offered free wifi. First stop: Barnes and Noble.

I ordered some food at the in-store cafe, sat down at an empty table, and connected to their AT&T-provided “hotspot.” A better name would be “coldspot.” The in-store wireless was fine but the connection bandwidth to the Internet varied wildly. Most of the time it was painfully slow, as in dial-up speed.

I decided to try a McDonald’s up the street. It’s AT&T Hotspot was not just cold, it was dead. I found the wireless network but it would never assign me an IP address. So back to Barnes and Noble I went. This is when it got weird.

I was sitting near the door that went from the cafe to the sidewalk. A well dressed older guy (older than Mr. ToughMoneyLove) walked out the door. This triggered the scanner alarm at the door. I looked up when the alarm went off.  None of the store employees paid the least bit of attention to the alarm.  I noticed the guy wasn’t carrying anything. That’s strange, I thought. What could have triggered the alarm? I then noticed a book-shaped bulge underneath the guy’s jacket, near his left hip. He had his arm carefully positioned just below it, supporting it. There was obviously something in there. I concluded that he had probably stolen a book or e-reader from the store. I wasn’t going to run out in the parking lot and confront him if the store employees showed no interest in their own warning system. I watched him get in his car (a Mazda Miata) and drive away. This guy was the worst shoplifter ever (in terms of calling attention to himself) but got away with it anyway because the employees were oblivious.

This Barnes and Noble is located in one of the wealthiest counties (per capita income) in the country. Which made the next event even more surprising.

I returned to my work but had plenty of time (waiting for web pages to load) to look around me. Another laptop user was a few feet away. Suddenly a guy appeared at this other table. He was older but not well dressed. He asked the other laptop user if he could use his computer for ten minutes. He said he would pay him.


His request was awkwardly denied. Since I was sitting right there with my own computer open, I expected to be next on the request list.  I was ready. First, I would tell him that the public library had many computers and free internet access. If he persisted after that, his interaction with me was not going to be pleasant. But he never asked me. I suppose he could read my negative body language.

I guessed that this guy was homeless and looking to pull some sort of “I need money” scam. The “can I use your computer” query was only the start. Maybe he was planning a “grab and run” move.  He would have been better off just asking for money.

A few minutes later, as I was driving out of the parking lot, I saw this same guy walking along the road, probably looking for another store and another target.

I know this is the Christmas season and a time for giving. But what I experienced at the book store just doesn’t fit.

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3 Responses to “Strange Happenings at the Book Store”
  1. Brian says:

    It’s unfortunate but many employees are trained to ignore shoplifters due to the liability issues involved. The fact that the company is more likely to fire the employee for confronting a shoplifter causes many to ignore the alarm.

  2. MasterPo says:

    Store door alarms are notorious for going off for many reasons. Maybe that store has too many false alarms (too many cry-wolf) for anyone to really care?

    As for the guy asking for PC access, in this day and age I’m sorry to say you’d be nuts letting the guy on. Whatever he does your cyber fingerprints are all over it!!

  3. Grace says:

    I think both of the above comments are accurate. Two of my daughters work in retail. They are NOT encouraged to stop possible shoplifters, apparently do to fears of unlawful arrest. And some of it is appallingly blatent.l

    But, having gone through a lot of store alarms that went off, either due to the failure to remove the store tag when I purchased the item, or the presence of a magnetized door for my office in my purse, I do know they aren’t wonderfully accurate. Yet I’m surprised how often I’m just waved through when the alarm goes off.

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