Man walks 21 miles for work. World gives him a lift

James Robertson, 56, works at a factory in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He takes a bus part of the way from Detroit and then commutes daily by foot.

Twenty-one miles.

He hasn’t missed a day of work in 10 years.

The Detroit Free Press told his story in a video on Sunday.


It’s the life Robertson has led for the last decade, ever since his 1988 Honda Accord quit on him.

Every trip is an ordeal of mental and physical toughness for this soft-spoken man with a perfect attendance record at work. And every day is a tribute to how much he cares about his job, his boss and his coworkers. Robertson’s daunting walks and bus rides, in all kinds of weather, also reflect the challenges some metro Detroiters face in getting to work in a region of limited bus service, and where car ownership is priced beyond the reach of many.

But you won’t hear Robertson complain — nor his boss.

By Sunday night, an online fund drive had raised $30,000, $5,000 more than the goal to help the man.

A car dealer offered a free car, others volunteered to donate theirs, and another person offered to drive him to work and then pick him up. Every day.

As of midmorning today, the online fund drive was up to $167,000.

Update 4:14 p.m.It’s now up to $232,000.

  • Jack

    Wowzers. He can buy a car and get out of Detroit for good!

  • Vince Tuss
    • Tim

      My thoughts too. This is curing a symptom, and not the disease. I’m glad he is getting help, but he’s certainly not the only person there who needs it.

      • The thing is: People can only do what people can do. Yes, it cures a symptom, because that’s what an individual can do.

        • jon

          My reaction to all of the “internet raises X dollars for ____ who has been with out _____ for _____.” has always been a bit mixed.

          It’s great that the one issue is fixed, but it really seems like we should be able to put some the crowd sourced might behind some thing bigger, something more basic, something to resolve the issues once and for all, for every one who suffers from these problems… not just the one guy.
          It almost feels like the internet is a new lottery… not quiet as random as the normal lottery… but still random… the odds of winning are stacked for those who are in need (or are making potato salad, or card games about exploding kittens).

          But good for this guy, and good for those who helped him!
          I don’t want to come off as judging people who are doing good things, because they aren’t doing better things. Especially when I’m not offering any better solutions… but the thought still lingers, can we fix the root cause of these types of issues…. can we even identify it conclusively….

          • It’s not the job of individuals to do the job policymakers are unwilling or too incompetent to do.

            Plus, they can’t. Not amount of crowdfunding can fix a failed transportation system.

            What the story shows is that we can turn our backs on issues without any problem — it’s hardly new that the transportation system is abysmal in Detroit and elsewhere.

            But it’s harder to ignore a human.

          • Tim

            If policymakers are unwilling or incompetent, then it’s up to individuals to replace them, either directly if they are elected, or indirectly if they are appointed. Yes, individuals can donate money. They can also vote, stay informed, and (collectively) hold policymakers accountable.

          • BJ

            “seems like we should be able to put some the crowd sourced might behind some thing bigger, something more basic, something to resolve the issues once and for all, for every one who suffers from these problems… not just the one guy.”

            Its funny we have this ‘crowd sourced’ thing called government, that funds things call transportation systems. Only thing not funny is after years of political deals the government has become so bloated it really can’t function.

          • Is it that it can’t function because it’s bloated? Or it can’t function because of the incompetence and corruption that permeates individual elements of it?

          • jon

            Either way, it sounds more sad than funny.

          • Jack

            oh I like that one Bob, nice one. I thought I would say this instead of up-thumbing.

          • BJ

            I was adding corruption and incompetence to general bloated comment.

  • Gary F

    Just think of his food bill. You would think you work up quite an appetite doing that much walking. This is not treadmill at the gym walking, this is walking outside in the hot or cold, rain or snow, after working on your feet all day as machine operator or machinist.Think his feet or back hurts some days?

    Why doesn’t he carpool with any of the other workers? You would think he would have had something worked out with some co-workers.

    • Vince Tuss

      Original story says it: None of his co-workers lives near him. Detroit to Rochester Hills is like south Minneapolis to Blaine. And one little part zoned for industrial.

  • Vince Tuss

    This follow-up too on the reaction of a regional transportation officials. James knows what is needed: A real bus system you can count on every day and night:

  • Jeff

    He can afford a efficient hybrid now. I oggled a BMW i8 last weekend. It’s only $143K leaving him $27k for gas.

  • Let’s hope he sets aside some $$ for gas, insurance, and income tax from receiving that amount of cash.

  • Brian Gauspohl

    James Robertson is an excellent worker with perfect attendance. His job only pays $10.55 an hour. Companies in Detroit should be lining up to offer him a better job that is very close to where he lives that pays a better hourly wage with better benefits.