America needs more people like James Robertson. Every place needs more people like James Robertson. But that doesn't mean his story isn't disturbing.
The 56-year-old Detroiter was the subject of a profile in the Free Press over the weekend. He walks 21 miles every day, part of a 23-mile commute from his home in the city to his factory job in Rochester Hills, a suburb. He's been doing it five days every week, ever since his old Honda bit the dust. His route takes him through rough neighborhoods and he leaves work well in the middle of the night. This being Detroit, he also reckons with snow drifts and sub-freezing temperatures regularly during the winter.
But Robertson is impressively upbeat about it:
"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.
There are some fringe benefits. Robertson's boss' wife feeds him delicious home-cooked Southern meals. Still: pretty grueling.
The reaction has been appropriately positive. Robertson was already something of a role model for his co-workers, and readers responded to the story generously, donating $70,000 and counting to help him get a new car. That's great for Robertson. But this isn't a feel-good story—it's a story about policy failures, structural economic obstacles, and about what it takes to keep working despite those challenges. Robertson is no doubt deserving, but it'll take larger changes to help other people who face similar struggles.