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Heart and Sole: Detroiter Walks 21 Miles in Work Commute

Posted by addisethiopia on February 6, 2015

My note: “A very sad, at the same time, an inspiring story”, was my first thought when I read the story. Nevertheless, I have to ask the following questions:

  • Why was Mr. Robertson unable to afford a motorcycle or just a bicycle?
  • Why no change of residence to a place near his working place?
  • Yes, Mr. Roberson doesn’t look athletic, so, how is it possible to walk all those miles, all those years? He doesn’t get enough sleep (two hours per day), he drinks 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and cans of Coke. Not a healthy way of life! Unless this is one of the latest Coca Cola promotional adventures, I sincerely wish him all the best, and, yes, Lord keep him safe!

He doesn’t look athletic but James Robertson, 56, of Detroit has a champ’s commute. He rides buses part-way but walks about 21 miles in round trips to a factory, unless his banker pal offers a lift.

Leaving home in Detroit at 8 a.m., James Robertson doesn’t look like an endurance athlete.

Pudgy of form, shod in heavy work boots, Robertson trudges almost haltingly as he starts another workday.

WMBut as he steps out into the cold, Robertson, 56, is steeled for an Olympic-sized commute. Getting to and from his factory job 23 miles away in Rochester Hills, he’ll take a bus partway there and partway home. And he’ll also walk an astounding 21 miles.

Five days a week. Monday through Friday.

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.

“I set our attendance standard by this man,” says Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering. “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!”

As he speaks of his loyal employee, Wilson leans over his desk for emphasis, in a sparse office with a view of the factory floor. Before starting his shift, Robertson stops by the office every day to talk sports, usually baseball. And during dinnertime each day, Wilson treats him to fine Southern cooking, compliments of the plant manager’s wife.

“Oh, yes, she takes care of James. And he’s a personal favorite of the owners because of his attendance record. He’s never missed. I’ve seen him come in here wringing wet,” says Wilson, 53, of Metamora Township.

With a full-time job and marathon commutes, Robertson is clearly sleep deprived, but powers himself by downing 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and cans of Coke.

“I sleep a lot on the weekend, yes I do,” he says, sounding a little amazed at his schedule. He also catches zzz’s on his bus rides. Whatever it takes to get to his job, Robertson does it.

“I can’t imagine not working,” he says.

‘Lord, keep me safe’

The sheer time and effort of getting to work has ruled Robertson’s life for more than a decade, ever since his car broke down. He didn’t replace it because, he says, “I haven’t had a chance to save for it.” His job pays $10.55 an hour, well above Michigan’s minimum wage of $8.15 an hour but not enough for him to buy, maintain and insure a car in Detroit.

As hard as Robertson’s morning commute is, the trip home is even harder.

At the end of his 2-10 p.m. shift as an injection molder at Schain Mold’s squeaky-clean factory just south of M-59, and when his coworkers are climbing into their cars, Robertson sets off, on foot — in the dark — for the 23-mile trip to his home off Woodward near Holbrook. None of his coworkers lives anywhere near him, so catching a ride almost never happens.

Continue reading…

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