The Detroit factory worker who shot into internet stardom after it became known that he walked 21 miles during his daily commute to work and back for a decade was surprised on Friday with a gift of brand new car, donated by a suburban car dealership.
The unexpected gift is only the latest one in a huge outpouring of donations from supporters from across the world who, touched by James Robertson’s unique story, have raised more than $330,000 (at time of writing) in a GoFundMe online campaign to help him buy a car.
Robertson had previously told The Detroit Free Press that his latest car — a Honda Accord — broke down about a decade ago and, making $10.55 an hour, he has been unable to save enough money for a new one. (Scroll down for the video.)
1. The unexpected gift is the latest in an outpouring of donations from supporters across the globe who, touched by James Robertson’s plight, have raised more than $310,000 to help him buy a car.
2. Robertson has told the Detroit Free Press that his car broke down a decade ago and, making $10.55 an hour, he has been unable to save for a new one.
Robertson, 56, who seemed baffled as he sat behind the wheel of his new red 2015 Ford Taurus, said:
I don’t like it, I love it. If only my parents could see me now.
Robertson thought that he was going to look at cars to buy with Evan Leedy and Blake Pollock, who both helped coordinate the gift, worth an estimated $37,000.
Instead, however, Robertson was greeted by reporters and a group of supporters who first learned of his marathon commute this week in a story which ran in the Sunday Detroit Free Press.
Robertson’s story has since been widely shared on social media and he has been featured on national network news programs. The publicity Robertson generated has renewed the discussion about reforming Metro Detroit’s troubled public transportation system.
3. Robertson’s story has been widely shared on social media, and Robertson has been featured on national network news programs.
4. The newspaper said Robertson takes buses to work, but has to walk more than 20 miles round trip because buses do not cover the whole route.
Leedy, 19, a student at Wayne State University, launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe after he read about Robertson’s daily commute between his home in Detroit and the Schain Mold & Engineering factory in the suburb of Rochester Hills.
The student spent part of the week negotiating a reasonable insurance rate for Robertson, who has not driven in a decade. Leedy told Reuters that he was first quoted a $15,000-a-year premium, which only illustrates Detroit’s notoriously high insurance rates.
The Detroit Free Press was tipped off by Pollock, a banker who had become friends with Robertson two years ago after spotting the factory worker walking by his office on his way to work.
The Detroit Free Press said Robertson took buses to work, but had to walk more than 20 miles round trip because public transportation does not cover the whole route.
Robertson starts his commute at 8 am for his 2 – 10 pm shift and does not get home until 4 am. He claims he powers his marathon-like commutes by drinking two liters of Mountain Dew and countless cans of Coke every day. He said:
I sleep a lot on the weekend, yes I do, but I can’t imagine not working.
5. The publicity surrounding the story has prompted a renewed discussion about reforming Metro Detroit’s troubled public transportation system.
6. ‘I don’t like it, I love it,’ said Robertson, 56, who appeared baffled as he sat behind the wheel of his 2015 red Ford Taurus. ‘If only my parents could see me now.’
Although getting into work is grueling, the commute is worse on the way back as Robertson has to walk the streets alone, in the dark and freezing cold.
None of Robertson’s co-workers lives anywhere near him, so catching a ride almost never happens. He has perfect attendance at his job, according to the Free Press.
Robertson’s colleagues have been telling him for years that he needs to get a car but it seems that he has fallen into a routine that he almost seems to enjoy it. He says:
I keep a rhythm in my head. I’m not saying I’m a member of some church. But just before I get home, every night, I say, “Lord, keep me safe”.
About three-quarters of the way home, Robertson has to catch the very last bus of the night at 1 am into downtown Detroit and then it’s another five-mile trek back to the home he shares with his girlfriend.
7. An emotional Robertson is overcome by the gift of the car that he said was simple on the outside and strong on the inside, a description he also applied to himself.
8. James Robertson walks staggering eight hours a day to work.
To watch the video in full, click here.
However, the punishing, all-weather commute now looks like a thing of the past for Robertson.
The new car is perfect for the machine operator, who had said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press that American cars are more his style, adding that all he wants is a Ford Taurus, which would set him back some $27,000. He said:
I’m a Ford fan. I remember the Taurus. They look comfortable, nothing fancy. They’re simple on the outside, strong on the inside — like me.
I’m 6-foot and I think the Mustang’s a little tight… I mostly stay with Americans cars — Lincoln, Fords, GM, Dodge.
Robertson’s fundraising campaign was started by Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old college junior who read his story and decided to raise money for him — initially with a goal of $5,000.
9. A finance expert has now assembled a group of advisers to manage the ever-growing fund, which is now 17,500 times larger than his annual wage — or equivalent to eight and a half years’ work.
10. Robertson thought he was going to look at cars to purchase with Blake Pollock and Evan Leedy, who both helped coordinate the gift, worth an estimated $37,000.
Robertson and Leedy met at a bar in Rochester, Michigan, ahead of a round of national press interviews. At the meeting, Robertson told Leedy:
I’m always going to be in your debt — I will never forget this.
The teen responded by showing him some comments left with the donations — many of which saying that Robertson deserved the money for his decades of hard work.
Although the fundraiser was originally just meant to cover Robertson’s auto needs, it could now do much more. The money is likely to help with Robertson’s medical and dental expenses, as well as longer-term commuting expenses like gas, repairs and insurance.
The interviews and meeting were arranged by Blake Pollock, a UBS banker who saw Robertson’s commute, and has sometimes given him rides, and was the first to tell the press about him.
Pollock has now organized a group of advisers to manage the ever-growing fund, which is now many times larger than his annual wage.
11. The car is perfect for the machine operator, who said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press that American manufacturers are more his style, has said all he wants is a Ford Taurus, which will set him back some $27,000.
12. The fundraising campaign for Robertson was started by Evan Leedy, 19-year-old college junior who read his story and decided to raise money for him — initially with a $5,000 goal.
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