It’s Friday morning, and George Holman, one of the few people pursuing the title of friendliest MBTA employee, is in his usual spot at the subway entrance inside the Old State House, doing his usual thing, which is to shock people out of their sleepy haze or the trance of their phones and accept something they might not be expecting: Warmth.
“Good morning,” he says to a woman, with a huge smile on his face.
“Good morning,” the woman replies, her face now clouded with suspicion.
Clearly she’s not a regular, because the regulars all know Holman and his exuberant greetings, which is why many of them were running up to him with a question (and often a hug): “What are you doing here?”
Holman is a customer service agent, which is an endangered job on the T, and many of his regulars knew that he was supposed to be gone already, to be replaced by an “ambassador,” a non-union employee who will basically do the same job — watch for fare evaders, help with the Charlie Card machines, give directions — but at a lower cost.
Thursday was his last day downtown. He is being transferred to Wellington Station in Medford. On that day, he said many goodbyes and took many selfies with his favorite passengers, but not enough, so he has come in on Friday, his day off, to work for free.
“I don’t like doing my job. I love doing my job,” he says. “I don’t work for a living. The T pays me to have fun.”
He had half thought about bringing in a petition to see if he could get T management to allow him to stay at his beloved State Street, something his regulars had suggested he do, but he decided against it, not wanting to ruffle feathers. And the T didn’t seem inclined to bend to popular will, in any case. “We’re pleased that he will continue to provide that level of customer service to thousands of T riders who pass through Wellington each day,” spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.
So Holman boarded the 5:15 a.m. bus near his home in Everett, rode it to Haymarket, and made the walk up Congress Street one last time.
Holman is 57, with a trim, athletic build (he’s also an assistant coach for the powerhouse Everett High School football team) and a body that is not great at sitting still, which is why he almost never sets foot inside the glass booth.
“How am I supposed to help people if I’m inside there?” he says as he dashes around the dim, chaotic space that is his theater, helping people navigate the subway map, leading tourists outside to literally point at Faneuil Hall, and teaching people how to use the Charlie Card machines, because he says if he just does it for them, they’ll never learn.
And as the morning commuters come up the stairs in waves with each arriving train, he issues hundreds of “good mornings,” mixed in with the occasional “buenos dias.”
Erica Franco comes up the stairs, on her way to work from East Boston, sees Holman, and immediately begins smiling.
“I can’t believe they’re going to take you away from us,” she shouts. “Whenever I’m having a bad morning, you put a smile on my face.”
‘I always left the station with a smile on my face.’
Soon there is a pileup of people waiting to talk to Holman, to say goodbye, to take photos.
“Who’s going to give me my ‘good morning’ when you’re gone?” Joann Delarosa asks after getting off her train. “I certainly don’t get it at work.” She gives him a hug.
After her comes Simone Jadusingh, who says Holman was a morning hero when she was pregnant.
“I’d come waddling up the stairs each morning, and he was always there to say, ‘It will all be worth it, keep smiling,’ ” she says. “And it worked. I always left the station with a smile on my face.”
Paula Donahue is next, coming up the stairs after getting off the train from Forest Hills.
“I heard you’re not coming back!” she exclaims. “I’m devastated. You’re an example of the humanity everyone should show to each other. Instead, they’re on their phones.”
Phones, more specifically headphones, are perhaps Holman’s biggest enemies. He suspects most of the time, people aren’t even listening to music; they’re just using them to avoid the sort of encounters he’s offering. It does not stop him.
Another train arrives, and as the passengers pour up the stairs, heads down, headphones on, trudging their way to another workday, Holman is ready.
“Good morning.”Billy Baker can be reached at email@example.com.