Tom McAlister likes to think of his sign as a clever marketing device.
Its message is printed in Magic Marker on the back of a Wyborowa Vodka advertisement, and Mr. McAlister spends hours each day holding it up at the intersection of York and Ridgely roads in Baltimore County.
"Will Work for Food," he announces to hundreds of passing motorists in Lutherville. Most don't seem to know what to make of Mr. McAlister, who insists he's looking for work rather than handouts.
"I'm hoping to get hired in a real job with real pay," says Mr. McAlister, a native of Oceanside, Calif., who has been living in Cockeysville for the past few months.
Mr. McAlister, 31, concedes that he has accepted cash and groceries from people who wanted to help him. But he says the sign has prompted area residents to offer him odd jobs.
"I've mowed lawns," he says. "I've repaired a lady's porch. I earn a living instead of going through the government" to get welfare.
A gaunt, articulate blond man who sports a beard and a beret, Mr. McAlister says he spends most of the year working as an electrician at state and county fairs around the country. But once the carnival season ends, he has to find another way to earn a living.
The sign lets people know he is looking for work, says Mr. McAlister, who chose an intersection with supermarkets on three corners to give his message maximum exposure.
"This is the first time I've tried something like this," he says. "A lot of times I stand out here and feel like an idiot."
Tim Brennan, who owns the Shell gasoline station at York and Ridgely, says Mr. McAlister's sign attracts plenty of attention in middle-class Lutherville.
"People have been curious and wondering if it's a legitimate plea," Mr. Brennan says.
But Kitty Connor, a Lutherville woman, says when she offered to buy Mr. McAlister groceries last week, he told her he was looking for work. She was impressed with his independence.
Others are more cynical about Mr. McAlister's motives.
Lisa White, assistant manager at the Lutherville branch of Household Bank, suspects he has found a lucrative way to panhandle.
"He probably makes more money than I do," she says.