04 February 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Two days ago Detroiter James Robertson couldn't afford a car — and today he can afford a small fleet.

Just last week, Robertson was spending lonely hours walking 21 miles to and from his suburban factory job, treks forced by the Motor City's sky-high car insurance and the region's spotty bus service.

It's been a whirlwind three days. Calls and e-mails have flooded the Free Press sending him well wishes and offering him cars, jobs, rides to work and encouragement, Some who read his story just want to meet him — shake his hand or give him a hug.

"I gotta say, this is Detroit, this is how people are in Detroit. They say Los Angeles is the city of angels. That's wrong. Detroit is the real city of angels," Robertson said.

Robertson spent Monday and Tuesday being shuttled to interviews. National networks interviewed him Monday night. Radio stations and People magazine have talked to him as well. And through it all, the 56-year old factory worker has remained humble.

"I have to be careful how I act about this — the same God who brings you all these blessings can take them away, but hopefully I'm ready for what happens," Robertson said.

Sunday's story, still available to read at freep.com, told of how a full-time job and daily commutes of 21 miles on foot each day left him just two hours for sleep, eased at times when a friendly banker would stop in bad weather to give him rides. Immediately a college student got the ball rolling to raise money to buy Robertson a car, with an initial goal of raising $5,000. As of late Tuesday more than $254,000 has been donated.

At Mr. B's Food & Spirits bar in Rochester, Robertson hugged WSU computer whiz Evan Leedy, 19, of Macomb Township, in thanks for creating the fund-raising web page.

"I'm always going to be in your debt. I will never forget this," Robertson said, as the younger man in the sweater-hoodie shook his hand Monday night.

Many of those who saw the Free Press story were so impressed with Robertson's work ethic — he has a perfect attendance record — "they want to say you earned this money," Leedy told the older man.

The unprecedented power of the Internet turned what a generation ago might have been local civic leaders passing the hat into a digital phenomenon of thousand, across the globe, giving amounts from $1 to hundreds. Yet, as TV crews, magazine writers and even local radio legend Dick Purtan circled Robertson for interviews — and more cash poured into a GoFundMe Internet site set up by a Wayne State University student — this soft-spoken operator of an injection-molding press vowed that all the money and attention wouldn't change him.

By Tuesday afternoon, at Purtan's lakeside mansion in West Bloomfield, Robertson told the retired radio funnyman he had no intention of quitting his $10.55/hour job, no plan to leave bosses and coworkers he cares deeply about, no intention of ever moving from the neighborhood in central Detroit where he'd lived all his life. Purtan was moved, like countless others who've read about Robertson or seen the Free Press video of him making a commute through miles of snow in Oakland County last week.

"James, the work ethic is fabulous. You're an inspiration. Would you run for president? 'Cuz I'd vote for you," Purtan said into a radio mike at the mini-studio in his dining room that's heard over the web.

"I'd have to think about it," Robertson said, grinning. Then his mien turned serious: "If I can teach one person, or do something to help Detroit, that would make me the happiest man in the world."

The Free Press told the story on Sunday's front page of Robertson's arduous regimen of bus rides and foot-slogging to keep his suburban factory job after his aging Honda quit, his employer moved north nine miles from Madison Heights to Rochester Hills, and bus service was repeatedly cut back in metro Detroit, forcing him to walk longer and longer distances each day. Rochester Hills is one of scores of suburban communities whose residents declined to approve property-tax millage for SMART buses, so no fixed-route large buses run there, SMART officials said.

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