DETROIT — You’ve heard of Walking Man?
Sure you have. He's the factory worker who walked 21 miles to work — from a rooming house in Detroit to a suburban job and home again, day after day, because buses took him just part-way.
He'd arrive covered with snow or soaked with rain sometimes, his boss said. But James Robertson was never late, never absent, in a dozen years.
Hearing of his plight in the Detroit Free Press last year, so many people rallied to help Robertson — from around Detroit and across the country — that within a week he had gifts amounting to $360,000 and a new car.
Now, the story of the Walking Man is going from print to the screen. Robertson, 58, of Troy is to star in a documentary film that he hopes will make a difference in the November election.
It’s being produced by Detroiter Jean-Claude Lewis, who met Robertson last summer when Lewis coached a 55-plus baseball team they both play on. The two hope to get the documentary out in just another week or so, in time to have an effect on the Nov. 8 election, when voters in southeast Michigan will decide on a transit tax. To Robertson, that’s the big deal on the ballot.
“They should have this millage pass so people won’t have to go through what I did,” he said last week, standing on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park, steps away from his former path to work, and where some of the film’s footage has been shot.
Lewis, a former Navy videographer, has done a short film on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other projects. He said he hopes the "Walking Man" film plays in community centers, libraries, city halls and club meetings, to spark discussion.
“Both James and I are in favor of voting yes for transportation,” said Lewis, 57, who lives in Detroit’s Corktown area. “I hope this movie will impel people to rethink this thing, that we do need mass transit here,” Lewis said.
Amid last year's publicity, Robertson's story became a symbol for all that's wrong with Motor City transit: sky-high car insurance required of Detroiters, a need for low-income workers to reach distant jobs, and a checkered map of bus routes that leaves many stranded, especially those in suburbs not served by the suburban regional bus system known as SMART. Those suburbs include Rochester Hills, where Robertson punches in five and sometimes six days a week to run a plastic injection-molding machine.