Road Riches - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Road Riches

A woman standing at the corner of College Drive and I-10 holds a sign that says "Traveling and broke and hungry…anything helps." Her name is Mary Jane, and many of you have handed over cash.

She marches with her sign, and more often than not, she is ignored by passing motorists.

Technically, Mary Jane is breaking the law by panhandling close to the roadway. Baton Rouge Police say existing laws prohibit roadway panhandling because it could impede traffic, but she's not worried about that. Mary Jane has a plan.

"It's pretty easy to come out and figure out where we can go from here, you know. Baton Rouge is close to New Orleans and that's where were usually headed," she said.

Mary Jane is not homeless. She is 24-years-old and a self-titled free spirit. She uses the money she collects on street corners to travel the country.

"Sometimes … you feel like you should be working and stuff like that. But sometimes it's harder when you go from town to town when you're trying to see the country. A lot of us hitch-hike or ride free trains," she explained.

Free trains are the ones you jump on when you can.

"I'm a female, so a lot of times I travel alone. I'm not going to travel without a knife or pepper spray. I've got to learn how to protect myself. A lot of the times there's a lot of kids that travel that are heavy alcoholics and things like that, so it's best to avoid the ones that are going to get you into trouble or possibly harm you."

Mary Jane has not been harmed so far. Her parents don't like her lifestyle, but she says she's seen more of this country than anyone in her family.

As for the panhandling, she made about $50 in less than an hour.

Had she been working for minimum wage, she would have made $5 during the 45 minute stretch we watched her; a stretch quickly ended by a warning from a passing police officer.

WAFB's Jim Shannon asked some passing motorists how they felt about being hit up for money like this.

One man has a creative alternative, he gives $5 gift cards.

"To give them cash - you know they could abuse it...I don't want to be an enabler to a bad habit so if I can see they are hungry, I think a gift card is a good solution for that," he said.

But by and large, most did not have a problem helping out.

"I don't have a problem giving them a little bit of change, you know. They are standing out here you know. Everybody deserves a free bit of money every now and then, so what goes around comes around in life."

"If I have cash I'll give them some. I just hope it's going to the right cause."

Mary Jane says she has worked in the past. She said she has worked restaurant jobs and managed retail stores, but she said she just needed a break.

Despite her breaking the law, she is making quite the profit.

Copyright WAFB 2014. All rights reserved.

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