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The story of a Detroit man who has been walking 21 miles a day to get to and from work for over a decade inspired a Michigan college student to launch an online campaign to buy him a car. Thanks to the generosity of strangers, the campaign has raised more than $60,000 in a day.
Since buses don’t cover the entire 23-mile route, 56-year-old James Robertson spends nearly all of his free time during the week commuting to his $10.55 an hour factory job in Rochester Hills. According to the Detroit Free Press, which published a front-page story about him Sunday, Robertson begins his trek at 8 a.m. to catch buses that take him to a Troy, Mich., mall before he walks 7 miles to Schain Mold & Engineering, where he begins his 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift. And according to his boss, Robertson has a perfect attendance record.
“I set our attendance standard by this man,” Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering, told the paper. “I say, if this man can get here, walking all those miles through snow and rain, well I’ll tell you, I have people in Pontiac 10 minutes away and they say they can’t get here — bull!”
Robertson has been making the same four-hour commute to the plant since 2005, when his car — a 1988 Honda Accord — quit on him. Robertson didn’t replace it, he says, because “he hasn’t had a chance to save for it.”
“I keep a rhythm in my head,” Robertson said of his near-marathon daily slog. (He also stays caffeinated “by downing 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and cans of Coke.”)
His commute home takes even longer. Leaving work after 10 p.m., Robertson walks the 7 miles back to the mall, where he catches the last bus of the day, just before 1 a.m., taking it as far as it goes: the State Fairgrounds on Woodward, just south of 8 Mile. From there, he walks roughly 5 miles back to home through what he describes as a dangerous section of town.
“I have to go through Highland Park, and you never know what you’re going to run into,” Robertson says. “It’s pretty dangerous. Really, it is, from 8 Mile on down. They’re not the type of people you want to run into. But I’ve never had any trouble.” (According to Wilson, Robertson got mugged once but doesn’t like to talk about it.)
By the time he gets home, at 4 a.m., it’s almost time to do it again. Robertson rarely accepts rides, though a banker who befriended Robertson while stopped in traffic has given him dozens this winter, the Free Press said.
The story inspired Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old computer science major at Wayne State University, to set up the campaign on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe with a goal of raising $5,000. Within an hour, more than $2,000 was raised, Leedy told the paper. Through Monday afternoon, the campaign had raised $62,444 via nearly 2,000 donations.
According to Leedy, all the money raised will be set aside for Robertson’s car, insurance, gas and maintenance.
Meanwhile, a local car dealership has offered to give Robertson a free car. “He gets to choose,” Angela Osborne, customer service specialist at Rodgers Chevrolet in Woodhaven, Mich., said. “We were just impressed with his determination.”