I had the chance the other day to go onto the NYSE floor. I’ve been a very modest and somewhat fearful investor for as long as I can remember. I figure as an artist I’ve more than used up my lifetime allotment for financial risk so I do not day trade but rather buy “for the long term” as the saying goes. I’ve had the market explained to me by various financiers multiple times and must confess that I still do not really understand how it works. It seems like a sort gentle and sometimes not so gentle, conspiracy. I have like so many of us, felt my stomach turn when the market dropped and been grateful for the bounces back up when they’ve come. I’ve also made enough exceedingly stupid buying and selling decisions to hurt and the occasional lucky ones too. The point is, the NYSE has occupied some percentage of my hours of fret on the planet, emotional and intellectual wattage as well and yet, I’d never been to the actual place, to the epicenter. Last week, I was granted a rare and privileged look inside mission control of capitalism.
One Jay Woods was there to greet us when we arrived. Having been on the floor for twenty years and clearly loving it, he was the best possible ambassador. Jay was not the rabid person we’ve all seen the in movies. He was rather a healthy young man, as concerned about his teenage son’s recent fender bender as he was the day’s trades. He single handedly afforded the NYSE a human face. Once past the security check, he moved us swiftly through the bowels of the building, guided us up a pristine white marble staircase and suddenly we were there in the market’s bustling midst. It was thrilling. A light filled, terribly high ceilinged marble room with slick wooden floors. These natural elements are the vessel in which the modern economy sails forth across its now virtual sea. Everyone onboard is engaged be it in front of a camera, behind a screen, negotiating a trade, clicking away at a keyboard. Time is compressed..…life happens in minutes, in seconds. Seconds count. You could almost feel the pulse of the global (any doubt that it is otherwise eradicated there) economy as a living breathing entity, see its emotions as they played across the faces of its collective body.
How is it possible that so powerful, life changing, fortune building, bone crushing, history making a place is housed in so small a space with many but finite numbers of screens and participants? On the floor, at least for me, the unmanageable was made manageable. The enormous was brought down to size, the surreal was made real. That happened in a handshake with Jay. Isn’t that how most monsters under the bed get humanized? In that moment when you can find common ground, breathe common air? Even in brief conversation it was clear that opinions on the floor are as diverse as they are across our great nation. Yet these folks work together to a common goal as they move commerce forward. Life lessons can be had in the most unexpected places.
Bridges are there for the building, handshakes are there for the bonding. Prejudices can be seen through, years of fear can be undone in a heartbeat. I learned and saw and experienced that on the floor of the NYSE.