My Years on the Exchange
This great building at the time was the apex of most stock transactions, the center of capitalism; it was also an easy place to score some coke or pot. They pretty much flashed current bid and offers (well if you knew where to go and most people knew where to go) for various grades of pot, this at a time when being caught with as little as a joint would get you jail time. No I did not participate; I never got into weed except to be sociable if a joint was passed around.
In my section of the exchange floor, clerks actually smoked on the floor. Cigarettes were not allowed, but the occasional joint was fired up. One of the clerks I worked with carried a gun in a little man-purse thing. He said he needed it for credibility. He dealt in coke from time to time. Bruce was his name; he had several last names, something to do with multiple welfare collections. He was a good guy believe it or not, and I was never one to mess with a guy who carried a gun.
There were thousands of workers on the floor of the exchange in 1971. There was one woman, a couple of blacks and maybe a Hispanic or two; this in probably the most diverse city in the world.
Visitors to the floor were treated with little respect. Notes were stuck to their backs, talcum powder thrown on their shoes when they were not looking, and then there was the standard “Spurring.” As the guest was distracted, paper cowboy spurs were taped to their shoes. While they walked around the floor sight-seeing, clerks and brokers alike would yell out “Yee Haw!” and "Ride'm cowboy." Visitors (often these were captains of industry) when they finally realized what was going on almost always reacted good naturedly, and the crowd would roar their approval. Any other reaction and boos would rain down upon them.
The one thing about the brokers and clerks on the exchange, despite the shenanigans and the immaturity, was their honesty. Trades involving hundreds of thousands of dollars were seldom in dispute. A trader’s word was gold, if people did not trust his word he was out of business. When there was a dispute, it would be settled by a coin flip or sometimes the two parties would just agree to split a loss.
When things got busy the nonsense stopped. Trading was much like in the movie “Trading Spaces,” what looked out of control was actually controlled chaos. Everyone screamed and yelled out numbers and somehow clerks kept track of the transactions.
When I left the floor, trading was becoming automated. When I retired years later, shares were exchanged at the touch of a button and the chaos was mostly controlled by massive computers which trade at multiple exchanges at once. Sometimes the wrong button is pushed and a zero or two is accidentally added. Firms have gone out of business because someone fat-fingered a zero.
The NYSE I knew is gone, an era is over, probably not a bad thing. I am glad I was there to experience it when it was ok to be a little crazy.