To cleanse the palate. He’s 56 years old, makes $10.55 an hour, and is determined to work even if it means six hours on foot in the dead of the night through some of Detroit’s roughest neighborhoods — spring, fall, summer, and winter. Americans have spent decades listening to stories from their grandparents about the hardships of walking to work and/or school before the age of ubiquitous automobiles. “People back then were made of sterner stuff,” they invariably say. The next time that’s dropped on you, look gramps in the eye and give him two words right back: “James Robertson.”
So astounding is his work ethic, and so widely circulated was this Detroit Free Press story about him, that a GoFundMe webpage posted a few days ago to raise five grand to buy him a used car now stands at close to $225,000 as I write this. Given what the Detroit housing market looks like these days, that’s enough to buy him a nice new car plus, say, 200,000 homes closer to his job. As glad as I am to see a hard-working man get some recognition, though … was there really no affordable alternative for him to a 20-mile daily commute on foot? A 20-mile bike ride is no picnic but it beats walking; there must be used bikes available in Detroit for, say, 30-40 bucks. Can’t knock him for not taking a job closer to where he lives — this is post-recession Detroit and he’s approaching 60, so good luck finding work anywhere — but one reason he gave when the Free Press asked why he sticks with the job he has now is because he considers his co-workers “like a family.” Couldn’t the “family” organize a pick-up drop-off schedule for Robertson among co-workers with cars, to spare him a daily marathon through some of Detroit’s more Thunderdome-ish enclaves? If you got 10 people with wheels to sign up for a daily rotation to bring Robertson to work and then back home, the most any one of them would have to go out of their way to help him is twice per month.
Exit question: The Free Press says he gets home at around 4 a.m., sleeps for two hours, then gets up at 6 to prepare for the morning commute. In other words, he’s walking 100 miles per work week with eight hours of sleep total mixed in. How is he alive?