Did you hear all those “Good Mornings?”
For all those and dozens more, Phillip Stewart got two half-hearted head nods and one mumble.
I noticed the security guard at the doors between Comcast’s Market and Suburban Station a few weeks ago, and as I watched him I was taken by how often his enthusiastic greeting went unreturned.
“Good morning, ma’am.”
“Morning sir, how are you?”
When I asked Stewart how many times a day he uttered those two words, he laughed. “Maybe 1,000,’’ he said.
Probably more. But then, the salt-and-pepper haired man with the easy smile isn’t counting how often weary commuters ignore him. That clicker in his hand is counting the number of folks walking into Comcast Center – about 6,000 a day, he said.
In any city, there are people and things and sounds that become such a part of the fabric, that you stop noticing them. And for lots of commuters, that sometimes includes Stewart’s morning greeting.
Stewart was mostly raised in Philadelphia, but he credits his Southern genes for his unflappable politeness.
His mother had all these sayings, “If a dog comes up to you wagging its tail, least you could do is pat its head.”
He laughs. But he’s heeded his mother’s lessons. His courtesies are extended as easily and equally from harried commuters and tourists to homeless men and women who wander into The Market all day.
“As long as they behave themselves, I got no issue with them,’’ he says.
And he doesn’t want to give the commuters a bad rap. He’s gotten to know quite a few – including the woman who comes over to tell him she’s off to Disney for a few days. And even if they don’t notice him, he notices them. “You see him,” he says eyeing a man in an expensive suit. “He’s a big one around here.” “And her,’’ he says, motioning to a woman with her phone pressed against her ear. “She’s big too, but not as big as him.”
Stewart figures there are people who have walked through the doors every day for years and have never even looked up. That used to bother him – especially since in addition to that greeting, which is technically part of his job, he also presses the automatic door opener.
He doesn’t have to do that, people.
“It’s an added courtesy,” he says, smiling.
But when you work with the public, you have to learn to roll with all sorts of things. And Stewart has.
A couple of stints in the Marines. A 21-year-career with the corrections department that abruptly ended, he says, after he defended himself against an inmate who came at him with a knife.
You’d think that might have taught him to stay away from dangerous situations, but when a few years back he noticed someone out on the plaza stealing a bike; the skinny 57-year-old took off after him.
He tackled the guy and got the bike back. His wife wasn’t impressed. His bosses advised that next time he probably shouldn’t go chasing down criminals. But they gave him a plaque and a “Security Guard of the Month” button he wears on the lapel of his pristine uniform.
“You alright?” Stewart asks a homeless man weighed down by a bunch of plastic bags he carries in enormous hands.
“Yeah, Yeah,” the man says. “You see the love I threw your way?” he says as he shuffles past Stewart. “You see it?”
Stewart laughs. “Yeah man, I saw it. Have a good day.”
“When I first started working down here,” Stewart says, “he was married to an Asian woman. One day she disappeared and I asked him where she went, and he said her family came to take her back, to New York.”
“So he’s by himself now, ’’ he says, watching the man walk back into Suburban Station.
From his morning post, it’s easy for Stewart to see people’s lots in life, their worries: that big report, that mortgage payment, that life that didn’t turn out exactly as they planned.
So even if they don’t look up or return his smile or even acknowledge his existence, Stewart says he’ll just keep wishing them a “Good morning.”
“Good morning, sir.”
“You have a good day, ma’am.”