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Traveler say he is penniless — and likes it that way

Updated: July 1, 2012 12:21PM

In a crowd that included a ukulele-playing woman calling herself “Nomad” and another woman screaming at the top of her lungs for no obvious reason, Eric Sponaugle stood out — quietly.

Outside the Lake View church that’s the unofficial headquarters for NATO protesters, Sponaugle, 23, was a misfit among misfits Friday afternoon.

Sponaugle doesn’t like to draw attention to himself: He came to Chicago this week partly because it was on his way to somewhere else — and he definitely isn’t looking to take back the wealth from “greedy capitalists.”

For the last seven months, Sponaugle — originally from Maryland — says he’s been traveling across the United States without any money. None. And he likes it that way.

“I haven’t possessed money since October,” explained Sponaugle, whose shaggy dark mane and lanky frame bring to mind The Doors’ Jim Morrison. “My life got a lot easier since I stopped using money. Money is a burden.”

Sponaugle often eats what others leave behind — from a tray at a fast food restaurant, or perhaps something plucked from a garbage can, he said.

“As long as it looks clean,” he’ll eat it, he said. “I’m not really worried about other people’s germs.”

He’d prefer a balanced, vegan diet, but “you can’t always be choosy in my line of work,” he said.

Sponaugle generally doesn’t “Dumpster dive,” calling it “almost mainstream.”

“I usually get a lot grimier than most people who are into Dumpster diving,” he explained. “I’ve eaten out of a McDonald’s trash can. I don’t really draw the line anywhere.”

When he needs to get from place to place, Sponaugle hitchhikes or walks. Earlier this week, he walked from Hinsdale to Chicago, he said.

He sleeps under the stars, unless he’s bunking at a friend’s house. He’s got one pair of shoes — some ratty sneakers with black tape wrapped around the toes because the sole is worn away.

But, otherwise, it would be hard to peg Sponaugle as homeless and penniless.

“I showered a few days ago,” he said. “I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of friends that are spread out in different places.

“It’s easy for people to see me as just this young guy — just a kid wasting my time,” he explained. “This is an education for me. I learn something from everybody I meet. I expose myself to so many perspectives I never would have gained if I stayed in one place.”

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