My brother has worked on Wall Street for years. All this time he’s been telling me stories, stories that have rendered me speechless. I had no idea things what took place at the NYSE. I’d seen movies, heard stereotypes, and I’d placed a few bets here and there, but my brother’s stories had me asking, “You’re making this up, right? Hookers? Really?”
I’ve often suggested he start an anonymous blog but he’d get caught and lose his job or worse, face charges or something. The blog thing never took off. Plus, unlike some members of our family, he’s not addicted the Internet, or blogs, or putting his life out there on the Internet for anyone to read (and criticize). He’s the smarter one of the two of us, which is probably how he works on Wall Street.
On Wednesday I finally made it down to the New York City Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan to watch them ring the bell and tour the floor. The experience was remarkable, moving, stressful, entertaining, humbling, and pretty outstanding, to say the least. And in spite of the fact I’m very ill at the moment, I had a most profound experience.
I arrived at 8:45 AM and had to call him from outside. There are several entrances and even the best of explanations could not have gotten me in through the correct door. He met me on Exchange Place and Broad Street with a red visitor’s pass. Security checked my bags and we were shuffled inside. Once inside the building, I was asked for ID by a police officer. He took my name, asked for my social, and told me to stand on the x where he snapped my picture and made me a visitor’s ID. Then, I was told to go through a metal detector in much the same fashion one moves through at the airport.
The building itself is super confusing. Once beyond the metal detector and through a few hallways, I had no idea which way I had come from and where to go from there. I followed Ryan who led me through a turnstile and up a flight of stairs to the floor, or, should I write, The Floor.
The actual floor is made up entirely of wood. It reminded me of a bowling alley for some reason but that could be because so many people were changing into more comfortable, and quieter shoes.
The main room’s ceilings stand stories tall. I have no idea how high they were. Balconies lined the floor holding camera crews such as MSNBC. Men were everywhere and I really do mean everywhere. (I’d be curious to know what the women to men ratio is). Some people wore blue jackets, some work black ones, gray ones, and others wore suits. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was a code. The guys in blue were able to cross the line. Some of the others had to stand behind it. Within the boundaries of the blue line, stood the brokers and the traders. The floor was buzzing with stories from the night before, about yesterday’s closing, game scores, everything masculine. People guzzled coffee like it was fuel. It was 9:15.
Ryan took me into other rooms. I checked out the “new room”, which was indeed newer but I still much preferred the older looking one to its shine. Something about the wood and the cathedral high ceilings in the main room gave a visitor the immediate feeling of excitement. The main room said, “Power” and stood on a pretty hefty base of history.
We buzzed through a few more rooms and then made our way back to the floor where Ryan’s post was. I still had no idea which way was south, north, east, west, or up and down for that matter.
And that’s right about when then the tone began to change. It was like watching America’s engine sputter to after a night’s rest; 9:30 was quickly approaching. People were moving into place, getting ready for their long, and stressful day.
Above Ryan’s booth, in a balcony overlooking the entire floor, stood a group of important looking people. They were the chosen few who would be in control of turning the key and starting the day by ringing the opening bell. (Incidentally, I was a little disappointed to discover that the bell isn’t actually a bell anymore but a button, which explains how a cat helped ring it earlier this year. But it was still really cool to watch.)
At 9:30 everything came to life. The brokers’ hands began typing madly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen fingers move that fast. The noise level rose. People grew intense faces. They stood taller, more rigid. They were, after all, dealing with extremely large quantities of other people’s money. (I watched one trade take place for 33 thousand dollars and it wasn’t even 9:45.)
Unfortunately, I had work to do in SoHo so I was only able to stay until 10:30. But in that time I got to meet a few specialists on the floor who graciously explained what they were doing. I was able to follow a trader around as well. Plus, I got to discover what Ryan did for a living, (which I am still a little confused about but now that I can picture it [I’m one who learns more by watching] I think I’ll better understand his explanations.)
I only wish I had the chance to see it before technology took over, back when they yelled out numbers (they still yell out numbers but it’s not the same) and scribbled things down on pieces of paper. I only wish I could have seen it back then. But I’m grateful for having seen it at all.
It really was quite special. I hold the experience really close to me and it has me wishing I could get paid to watch other people work, figure out what they do, an anthropologist for work, I’d love to study jobs. While I was at the NYSE, I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing inside one of America’s vital organs. And any stress I have ever experienced as a graphic designer pales in comparison to the stresses of Wall Street. (I haven’t held that kind of perspective since the conversation I had with three drunk coroners at a bar in Washington, DC.)
Today, I woke up and thought, “So, that’s happening right now.” Because before yesterday, I had no idea.