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Friday, August 22, 2014

My Years on the Exchange


My Years on the Exchange
In 1971 I found myself working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  In those days, security was lax.  Today you need an Exchange ID, or you have to have a special escort.  Getting by security requires passing metal detectors.  In 1971, if we forgot our badge, we merely flashed anything plastic at the guard and you usually could get by. 

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.

    

18 comments:

  1. My first thought was "how in the world could you ever survive the noise and the stress of that place". Now I understand.

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  2. I'm learning so much about how the stock exchange used to be. Cool. I've seen depictions on television and always wondered if it was close to reality.

    Have a fabulous day Joe. ☺

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  3. This was fascinating. The stock exchange is one of those places I never get tired of hearing about, or seeing it in movies. It's so different from anything I know in my own experience.

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  4. Wall Street isn't very highly thought of here in "fly over" country....

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  5. Since my broker has been swallowed not once but twice by bigger firms he now only handles accounts over a million and says that those people starting out have to use robots to buy and sell!

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  6. In the seventies and eighties I worked for a company that was closely held but later bought by a household name company that was publicly traded. It was a sea change. There could be no mistakes at any level. My company's culture was killed, eventually the company was killed. Sad world, the demands of the stock market and it's robot stockholders.

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  7. Forty years ago we could still buy and sell through people we knew ...and trusted.
    Today, they're gone because a machine's taken over.
    I miss that.
    Except yesterday I bought a bicycle from a mom 'n pop store.
    Now all I have to do is keep it locked up so the tweakers don't steal it.

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  8. Stock? Chicken Stock? I'm clueless.

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  9. This wouldn't have been an environment I would have flourished in, not even with the pot.

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  10. I think I would be the good natured visitor. I like joking around. I remember when I was young see the floor on television it looked like a party on the floor. People and paper going all over the place. Now when I see the floor of the exchange on the floor it looks boring.

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  11. Man-purse? Our 6th grade teacher preferred to call HIS a European carryall. Maybe to shut up all of us gals yelling, "Man-purse!" Let the record show that we were all Seinfeldophiles.

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  12. Sounds kind of like my days in broadcasting. The golden years.

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  13. Interesting information. Our generation has seen so many things change from trust and no worries to an over abundance of caution and political correctness. Sure, we may be more safe and maybe less offended but a lot autonomy and serendipity have been sacrificed.

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  14. Pot on the exchange floor? No wonder the world's economy is in a mess.

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  15. Fascinating! Whenever I saw "coke" scroll across the screen I just thought it was a Coca Cola Co. trade. Wonder what other code words I missed? :)

    S

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  16. So much seems to be done at the touch of a button now. I myself feel it is better to have some direct human input in most jobs.

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  17. Any film I have seen of the floor is terrifying and chaotic. Like someone poured hot water on an ant farm,

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