Walking 21 Miles To Work Is A Human Triumph. And A Fucking Tragedy.

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Unless he wishes to, James Robertson will likely never have to make the 21 mile walk to and from work again. Since his story went national, he's received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations — over $200,000 from a GoFundMe page created for him alone — and at least one dealership offered him a car. This is a story that seems to have a happy ending. An American story about a man exhibiting the unquenching and unparalleled grit and determination often associated with the American Spirit, and the selflessness and kindheartedness exhibited by those who've donated money and/or services to him — characteristics also associated with the American Spirit.

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But this is not a happy story. This is a story of a man in a major American city dealing with circumstances no one in a country with our wealth and resources should ever face. This is a story about a man who, despite his colleagues and supervisors being very aware of his predicament — and despite being known as a model employee — risked his life everyday for $10.55 an hour. Because while his daily journey was inspirational enough for the plant manager to make sure his wife made a plate of food for him everyday, it apparently didn't inspire him enough to get him a promotion. Or even just a raise. This is a story of a doomed man — a man who very possibly would have died making that commute — who was lucky enough to catch the attention of the Detroit Free Press.

This is a fucking tragedy. This is an American story.

Last week, my wife and I finally completed season four of The Wire. This was her first time watching the entire season; the fourth or fifth for me. One of the season's many subplots focuses on the lives of four boys; Namond Brice, Randy Wagstaff, Michael Lee, and Duquan Weems. By season's end, the only boy who had any chance of being saved from the streets was Namond, and that's only because someone literally grabbed him and pulled him off of them. Season four is generally recognized as the show's apex; the season where the series's overarching theme of vast systematic failure resonates most. In this sense, the only thing separating Namond Brice from D'Angelo Barksdale, Frank Sobotka, and Bodie Broadus was luck. Each stuck in an inescapable system playing an unwinnable game. Namond, like James Robertson, just happened to experience some luck. D'Angelo Barksdale, Frank Sobotka, and Bodie Broadus — like the hundreds of thousands of James Robertsons in this country, American men, women, and children destined to be crushed, swallowed, and shit out by the system — did not.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

DISCUSSION

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Lea Thrace

I'm not surprised by this story at all. Mostly because public transportation is an absolute joke in the country.

A few years back when gas was super high, I decided I was going to take public transportation to work. (Keep in mind I had the privilege of a car and a white collar job so this was a personal choice experiment). At the time I worked 15 minutes (driving) from my house. 15 mins yall. Want to know how long it took me to get to work? 2 hours in the morning (3 buses). 3.5 hours in the evening (3 completely different buses from the morning commute + a train). And that does not include the 10 minute drive from my house to the train station to park my car since the buses picked up no where near where I lived. This little experiment lasted approximately 5 weeks. I do not know how people who HAVE to do it, do it. But the good Lord bless them. And eff this system that makes situations like this even necessary.