Think nothing good ever happens on the T? You’re going to want to take your headphones out for these rides.
“Attention passengers, ring the bell for all street level stops. Once again, pass-en-gerrrrs,” the voice over the scratchy Green Line intercom called out, stretching the final syllable into a more than 12-second tone. “Ring the bell for all street level stops!”
Up and down the trolley, passengers glanced up at the intercom, then at each other, exchanging looks of confusion and glee.
Welcome to the Wali Holly show, an audio experience the Green Line operator creates a couple times each day in hopes of breaking up the rush hour slog. For years, the trolley driver has been putting his own spin on the T’s boilerplate announcements, playing with cadence and pitch, recommending his favorite anime, and cheering on Boston sports teams.
Holly is among a handful of T operators who aim to brighten riders’ troubled commutes using one of the few tools available to them: the intercom system. Alone, they may not be able to reduce wait times or improve reliability, but the intercom allows them to connect with commuters and make the ride a little easier, or even — dare we say it — fun.
And most riders seem to love it.
During a recent Monday afternoon rush hour, Holly pulled into the Blandford Street stop along Commonwealth Avenue and at first riders heard the usual prerecorded announcement over the intercom that “doors will open on the right.”
Then, Holly was back on the mic.
“Shoutout to the baseball, basketball, football, and wrestling fans,” he thundered into the intercom, pushing the decades-old trolley’s microphone to its limit. “Also the fans of One Piece, Naruto, My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, Hunter x Hunter,” listing anime titles and characters as the trolley resumed its journey, a bravura performance that lasted the nearly 70 seconds until the trolley pulled into its next stop.
Holly said he reserves the anime routine for outbound rush hour trains, when he figures commuters need a boost coming off a long day.
It worked for Elizabeth Sprague. The Boston University student had spent the day “running around like a chicken with its head cut off,” completing errands and preparing for a flight the next day.
“This guy’s awesome, whoever he is,” Sprague said, pausing at times to laugh. “I wish there were more people like this.”
There are. Though few in number, they make for a memorable minority of the T workforce.
On the Red Line, riders have come to know operator Allen Freeman’s rapid-fire approach to service announcements. Freeman has been refining his shtick for a decade, coming up with countless ways to say “Braintree” and “Ashmont.”
“Ashmont train! Ashmont! Ashmooont,” he booms over the intercom, barely taking a breath before stretching out the final syllable until his lungs run out of air.
“Sometimes I’d be in the cab, laughing at my own jokes,” Freeman said. “I just do it to do it, man. Whoever likes it, it’s cool.”
Freeman was raised in Cambridge, and grew up taking the Red and Orange Lines with his brother, watching the operators. Just getting to drive the train is a pleasure, he said, and entertaining riders is a fulfilling bonus.
Freeman said most riders seem to appreciate the energy. Some come up to the front car to see just who they’ve been listening to after stepping onto the platform.
When his Red Line train has to stand by, that’s just new material, Freeman said.
“We apologize for the in-con-ven-i-ence,” he rehearsed over the phone, the phonemes rushing out in a sing-song staccato as the pitch of his voice dropped.
“Get ready. Get your mind right,” Freeman said. “It’s going to be a long day. Let’s just have some fun.”
If Holly and Freeman bring energy, Blue Line operator Helen Antenucci aims for comfort.
Antenucci has worked for the T for nearly three decades, earning legendary status among Blue Line passengers for her bilingual greetings, directions to the New England Aquarium, and reminders to “be kind.” The veteran cheer-bringer politely declined to be interviewed, but she’s no stranger to the spotlight.
During the Tuesday morning rush hour, Antenucci opened the window of her train car — despite the misty rain — and waved to passengers as she pulled up to the inbound platform at Wonderland Station around 7:40 a.m. By then, she had already completed two round trips but showed no sign of slowing down.
A stop away, at Revere Beach, Iptissam Fett, a health care worker downtown, waited at the far end of the platform. As she stepped into the front car of Antenucci’s train, Fett waved and blew her driver a kiss.
“That made my day,” Fett said. “It goes smoother. At least because it’s early morning, you need someone to smile to your face.”
A Blue Line rider for the past few years, Fett said she’s come to know a few energetic operators, but Antenucci is “the number one, to be honest.”
A few minutes later, Fett smiled again as Antenucci began her usual morning announcements. “Good morning, buenos dias,” Antenucci’s voice flowed from the intercom. “Be well, be safe. Please be kind to one another. Happy Tuesday. Have a wonderful day.”
It turns out a wonderful day can, sometimes, start on the T.