Take a look around any MBTA train on any given day at rush hour, and it’s basically just a crowd of groggy commuters staring at their phones (or flipping through the Metro).
But what if you could start your day not by awkwardly avoiding eye contact for 20 minutes, but with a friendly hello?
That’s where Helen Antenucci comes in. The 74-year-old Blue Line driver, who loves the New England Aquarium and can appreciate a sunny day with the best of them, has spent nearly two decades greeting passengers with a little extra joy on their way to work.
“Good morning and what a wonderful morning it is,” she said through the speakers Monday morning, as the 8:30 a.m. train left Orient Heights. “The sun’s shining. It doesn’t get much better than this!”
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An East Boston resident who’s spent most of her life in the neighborhood, Antenucci got her start with the MBTA 21 years ago, and she’s spent her career with the T trying to brighten people’s days.
Some passengers have become friends, others fans.
“They’ve been wonderful,” she said. “I had a young girl get up and tell me her day started awful and her whole day changed just by someone saying ‘good morning.’ I said, ‘You know what? You have a beautiful smile and you could make somebody else’s day.’”
"She goes above and beyond what the customer relations desk wants you to do," said Jimmy O'Brien, president of the Boston Carmen's Union. "She puts a lot of pride and effort into what she does."
It’s not for everybody, though, and she knows it.
Take Kristin Dukes, a Simmons professor on her way to work on Monday, for example. It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship, she said.
“It depends on the mood I’m in. Sometimes she makes me laugh,” Dukes said. “She’s always so happy and sometimes I don’t want her to be happy. I’m just being honest: Do we look like happy people?”
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Antenucci has heard worse.