Wednesday, October 13, 2010
- A Personal Story
RadioFreeNJ is coming up fast on 1,000 posts. So to commemorate that, I thought I’d tell a personal story of something that happened to me when I first started working on Wall Street. Many of the regular readers are friends of mine and some may have heard this before. I feel like many more who have read and commented on my stuff have becomes friends, even though we've never met. I appreciate all of you lending me the time you do, and going to the trouble of reading my opinions. Thanks.
Anyway this story is really for those of you who are regular readers but aren’t already personal friends of mine. You know who you are. I think it tells you something important about who I am; or at least who I think I am; or at least, who I thought I was, and how that changed a little. It’s revealing of something anyway. It's a pretty good story that has the virtue of being absolutely true. And you'll probably understand at least a little more of what makes me what I am after reading it, than you knew before.
It was 1990, and I was living in Hoboken while working unspeakably long hours at JPMorgan on 60 Wall Street. Normally I was in the office before 6:00 AM but I had been there very late the night before and overslept. So that day I was on my way in to the office at the embarrassingly late hour of about 8:00 AM. When I reached the corner of Broadway and Wall, about a block from the exchange, I noticed that there was a smallish protest going on and the commuters were giving it an awfully wide berth. The protesters had their arms linked and were blocking all pedestrian traffic on Wall Street, just west of the exchange. The police had them outnumbered and were standing around wondering what to do about the whole thing, but were at the moment doing absolutely nothing.
I had no idea what they were protesting, but I was quite confident that it had nothing to do with me. I was just a little worker bee after all, not anyone that they would be concerned with. I wasn’t a Wall Street Fat Cat… I was a skinny kid with a head for math, big student loan bills, and an unresolved compulsion to over achieve. I wasn’t even actually going to the exchange, I was just trying to get past it. Besides, at the time I very much saw myself as a member of the lower economic class that was just ‘passing’ on Wall Street where I was trying to make up for my lack of proper Wall Street breeding by working harder than my peers.
But even more important to me than any of that at the time was, I was terribly late for work. So instead of looping around the block and coming in a different way, I walked up to the protester on the side of the street furthest from the exchange, said “excuse me”, and tried to slip by him. This it turned out, was just what he was waiting for. I guess he saw it as his chance to ‘make a difference’ and stand up to ‘the man’. He looked at me with utter vitriolic hatred and screamed in my face (from about 5 inches) at the top of his lungs “NO F-ING WAY MAN!!!!!!!” Then he braced himself with his fellow protesters and prepared for my assault. I looked at him totally perplexed… why in the world he could be so angry with me? He was several years older than me, and as far as I could tell, was probably making more money. And I was just a kid - late for work.
At that point I felt a hand fall gently on my shoulder. It was the police sergeant (who was also about 15 years older than me) who said ‘excuse me sir.” to me, as he stepped between me and the protester. He then waved his arm in a beckoning manner and the police who had been forming up behind me swooped in. They started grabbing the protesters three policemen to one, and tossing them through the air at about waist height, into a large truck which they had nearby. After about 8 or 10 of them had been unceremoniously scooped out of the way, the sergeant then waved me forward and personally escorted me past their remaining number. He then tipped his hat to me and told me to have a good day.
I was totally blown away. Up to that time my only contact with policemen had involved the phrase ‘What you think you’re doin here boy?” It was that day that I realized that my place in the world had changed in an important way, and that wearing a $30 tie meant the difference between being frisked on the side of the highway by a South Carolina state trooper, and having a bunch of NYC riot police toss people through the air so that I can be on time for work.