I was invited to a closing bell ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange last week. Sitting in the quiet car leaving Elizabethtown station, heading to Penn Station in the heart of New York City followed by a subway ride to Wall Street. I thought back to my first such trip to the New York Stock Exchange back in 1997.
The Trip to NYC
This trip will be my fifth time walking the floor of the Exchange. During my first trip, I could have ridden in Amtrack’s smoking car instead of the smoke-free quiet car of today. Never a smoker and having asthma, I appreciated when places became smoke-free. On this trip, I was required to wear a mask, only one person in a row, and saw a number of people doubled masked as we all sat quietly in our train car.
Heading to New York back in 1997 I was heading for my training in the Twin Towers. I had just passed my Series 7, 63, and 65 in March and was looking forward to learning at the center of the financial industry. I was married with a 24-month-old little girl and a newborn son a few weeks old along with a dog. Today I am married to my island girl as empty-nesters, with a 22-month-old granddaughter, two married children, and a single son with no pets. The journey this time was stranger than any I had taken before.
Arriving at Penn Station
The mood was different as I walked through Penn Station in New York. The big board that updated when trains were arriving and leaving has been changed to a big screen. The old train board made a shuffling sound as the board was being updated. The sounds of shuffling were a clue to check the board to see the latest update. Now you wait in silence shifting your gaze from your phone to the monitor to see if anything changed. The hustle and bustle that make this station exciting are now more subdued. The walk to the subway gave me time to reflect on the next part of my journey taking the subway. The subway station on Wall St was fairly empty as most of the workers in this area are still working remotely.
Inside the Stock Exchange
In 1997 as I walked up to the Exchange, I saw a group of men smoking on one side of the building. They would exit through a side door letting them get some relief from the stress of trading. Today’s values of being a smoke-free workplace and limited access along with security checkpoints mean the only people standing outside the exchange are tourists.
Inside the walls of the Exchange, the world is different. People are excited, there is an energy in the room, and people are talking without masks. Friends are connecting and people are making new connections, sharing stories. The walls have photos, art, and information about events since the exchange was founded May 17, 1792, under a buttonwood tree along a street called Wall St at the edge of town.
Before 9/11 the New York Stock Exchange had a visitor’s gallery. You could go in and watch all the action on the floor as traders moved around taking and placing orders. Today the floor of the Exchange is quiet except for the hum of computers, flashing screens on the monitors, and the news reporters giving commentary on the market floor as if this is the best place to give the latest breaking news. There still is occasional trading activity happening person to person. Instead of nods, hand signals, and paper tickets to close the deal they use handheld tablets.
The actual event of a closing bell ceremony is not the highlight of the experience. It’s the connections and sharing of knowledge and experiences as well as talking with Senior Vice Presidents, CIOs, CFAs, business owners and learning from each other. This free exchange of ideas is what the trip is all about for me.
Heading to my train ride home, I retraced my steps. I thought Penn Station would be busier for the evening commute but I got to enjoy the quiet car again with very few people sharing the car with me. This time gave me an opportunity to review the day, ponder the experiences I have had over the years taking this same train ride, and the events that have shaped our world into what it is today.