Security guard Chris Bennett thinks New Yorkers to deserve to be a little easier on each other.
Which is why the 53-year-old continually says good morning to each of the thousands of commuters who rush through Fulton Center on weekday mornings.
“People say ‘why are you so happy?’ And I tell them ‘I’m always happy, we woke up this morning,’ and that frown turns into a smile and they’re like, ‘okay.’ And the next morning I see them and I make sure I focus on them next time. By the end of the week, I can guarantee I have them smiling.”
Riders hear Bennett before they see him, his booming voice bouncing up through the 79-foot-high oculus. His go-to phrase is a simple good morning, but he also reminds commuters how many days until Friday.
Bennett works for AlliedBarton Security Services, which has a contract with the MTA. Bennett previously worked a pedestrian safety post at the corner of Church and Vesey Streets, and moved over when Fulton Center opened last November.
Bennett said he started greeting riders not too long after starting his new post. He came up with the idea to pass the time on his 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, and because he knows he’ll be asked for directions and countless other questions throughout the day.
Bennett said his “crew” of regulars start coming in after 7:30 a.m., and factor in a few minutes to stop and chat. And when Bennett isn’t at his normal post to greet commuters, his bosses hear from disappointed riders.
But being this friendly on the job didn’t come naturally. Bennett retired from the Department of Corrections in 2007 after spending more than 20 years as an officer on Rikers Island and Elmhurst Hospital.
“When you work in a jail and you walk the street and people walk up to you, your antennas go up, especially if you’re with your family,” Bennett said. “Doing this job allows me to interact with what I call ‘normal people,’ who are doing the same thing, a 9-to-5. Now I’m a part of that.”
Bennett says he learned the discipline of smiling and wishing New Yorkers a hearty good morning day after day from his former career.
“The worst thing you can do is be evil one day and friendly the next day. If you’re evil, stay evil. If you’re friendly and do everything by the rules, do it that way,” Bennett said. “I may come here not feeling that well, or maybe have something on my mind. I’m not going to bring my problems to work, that’s the worst thing you can do when you’re dealing with the public.”
Bennett said after his shift ends, he usually rushes back to Corona, Queens, to his true love — coaching kids to play basketball. Bennett and his partner, Kelly Blue, put together a team that plays at St. Paul’s in the Catholic Youth League. Bennett and Blue entertournaments on their own the rest of the year.
Bennett, perhaps the friendliest native New Yorker, want everyone to try out wishing each other a good morning.
“It works,” Bennett said. “We’re quick to always put each other down, but we’re not quick to pick each other up.”