Why you shouldn't say "Pogue Mahone" on the BBC - Off-Ramp for March 17, 2012

Confessions of a panhandler

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In New York City, Women walk by a panhandler along Madison Avenue.

Did you ever wonder about the panhandlers who work the off-ramps of Southern California's freeways, with their sometimes heartfelt, funny or remarkably sad messages written on scraps of cardboard?

I did. Do they have schedules? Do they coordinate with other panhandlers? How much do they make?

I finally decided to ask one of them, a man I always see at the bottom of my exit, the eastbound 210 off-ramp for Hill Avenue.

His name is Randy and he says he's been "flying sign" since 2000, panhandling from Minneapolis to the Pacific Northwest, down to his present location in Pasadena. He says he led a white collar life as an applications engineer in the early 1990's until mental health problems -- schizophrenia -- began to affect his ability to work. Every day he "flies sign," and seems to work as hard as any tax-paying, gas pumping, hot blooded American citizen. Randy says he stays sober, but it's not easy.

A banner day? "I was panhandling in Glendale about four years ago, and a African-American gentleman pulled up and he rolled down his window and he gave me an envelope and said, 'Have a great day!' and there were three $100 bills in the envelope."

Pasadena, he says, is very friendly. Much more so than Anaheim Hills, for instance, where people are too worried about their own problems to help him out.


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