Saturday, December 08, 2012

Sneaking Into the New York Stock Exchange

The glorious life of a writer consists largely of working jobs that will let you keep a roof over your head without driving you to suicide. For the past 12 years, minus a year of unemployment after being laid off, I have worked as a financial journalist.

It was in this capacity that I had the chance to visit the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to witness the ceremonial opening bell. I’m not normally ever in a position to go to the stock exchange—I don’t write about stocks and the publication I write for is small and obscure for anyone not involved in the junk bond or leveraged loan markets.

Journalists often have the attitude that they comprise such a special estate of American life that they are entitle to access and privileges that other people aren’t, and really that’s a lot of bullshit. The journalists doing the most important work are NOT the ones you see with fancy credentials dangling from their necks. The best journalists are the ones out on the street or ferreted away in a filing room digging through old or obscure documents for the cold hard unfashionable facts. If you’re a journalist and government officials and captains of industry consider you a friend, you’re doing it wrong.

Nonetheless, I jumped at the chance to visit the stock exchange floor on the flimsy pretext that presented itself. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture and a place off-limits to most people. The New York Stock Exchange used to allow tourists to visit and see the trading floor from a glassed in balcony (glassed in after Abbie Hoffman and a group of hippies threw dollar bills from the visitor’s gallery). All tourist visits ended after the Sept. 11 attacks.

I wish I could tell you I went on a Hunter S. Thompson-esque journey through smoky backrooms where cocky stockbrokers snorted giant lines of cocaine and made billion-dollar deals while I warded off angry pimps with a .357 Magnum, but it was nothing like that.   

After waiting at a security checkpoint, two young NYU students/public relations interns escorted me to another security checkpoint where I went through a metal detector and got a visitor’s pass. Some very friendly security guards held the pocket knife that I forgot to leave at the office and gave it back to me when I left.

The interns escorted me to the floor of the stock exchange and over to where the opening bell is rung. The balcony where the guests of honor ring the opening bell is smaller and lower to the ground that you expect after seeing it on television for years. It’s an interesting place where modern technology has been shoe-horned into a beautiful marble hall that was built for simpler, more elegant times.

The floor of the New York Stock Exchange does not erupt into a frenzied bedlam at the start of opening bell. Very little exchanging actually takes place on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange anymore. Most trading is done electronically. The NYSE’s rival NASDAQ stock exchange is completely electronic and their official exchange location is a TV studio in Times Square where they have their opening and closing bell ceremonies along with the ubiquitous big flashy screens.

I forgot to turn in my visitor’s pass when I left, so at least I have a souvenir.

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