“I have no experience but I'm a big fan of money. I like it, I use it, I have a little. I keep it in a jar on top of my refrigerator. I'd like to put more in that jar. That’s where you come in.” – Adam Sandler, The Wedding Singer.
Ever since my first thought of changing course vis-à-vis my vocation, the search has been conducted in my head. Occasionally I let the search wander in to that silent inner space ruled by the heart, but only occasionally. It occurred to me that I must also physically get out there and witness things where I can; investigate and see for myself if the reality matches with how I envision it. Today I had just such a chance. Last year I learned a friend worked at the BoT. I listened to him talk about the fury and energy of “the pits” and began to feel a sudden excitement as he explained the emotional roller coaster that takes place daily between the market’s open and close, which is 9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. even if I was not going to spend the rest of my life trading commodities, I at least had to see it for myself.
My girlfriend’s father trades corn at the BoT and offered to take me with him for a day so I could see for myself what a day in the life looks like up close. I took him up on it immediately. I met him 8:00 a.m. in the lobby of the building (which stood in as Wayne Tower in Batman Begins) and we made our way up to his office and then out to the main trading floor.
The BoT, or at least where the pits are, is a cavernous room surrounded by screens full of abbreviations and numbers. It is a data junkie’s dream come true. You might remember that in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the crew visits a trading exchange. I am still not sure if that was filmed at the BoT or the Mercantile Exchange around the corner, but if you watch, you will get the idea. You can also watch the ending of Trading Places to get an idea of the controlled chaos and adrenaline rush in which I found myself the moment the bell rang the markets open.
The atmosphere before the opening bell was very similar to a sporting event. Everyone knows something highly energized with big stakes is about to commence. Everyone was quite jocular and nonchalant about the fact they were about to connect agricultural products and monumental sums of money. Perhaps the levity normalizes it all, or maybe it is just something people do. Or it could be a way of reminding each other, subconsciously, that though they we about to begin screaming at each other and shoving one another around to move markets, they were all still co-workers. At least that is how it appeared to me.
Once the markets opened, it was a free for all. A massive outpouring of energy, vocal and physical, seemed to shoot out of some invisible cannon. It seized the room and created a frenzied mob unafraid to throw their bodies around to take advantage of a deal and better their position for the day. Courtesies ceased to exist, but I suppose that is expected when trying to strike deals worth millions of dollars in any given moment.
The sensory overload made concentration difficult. I could not understand how a person can manage it all and still be effective. Then I realized that each person knows how gather the data they need for a trade and execute it while ignoring everything else. I also realized that one can have a mountain of data at their fingertips, but it is completely useless if they cannot decipher it. That is how I felt trying to interpret the fluctuating numbers I saw on the electronic boards mounted on the room’s perimeter.
The hours passed almost like minutes. Thing gradually wound down as the session approached its final hour. Some traders were still very engaged while many slowly peeled away. I assumed I would be able to tell who made bundles of money and who lost them, but I could not. It appears part of the job means being comfortable with both because both can happen on any given day. That was my first inkling that this might not be for me.
A second indicator was what I perceived to be the lack of solving a problem. I understand the trades are necessary to match available commodities with purchasers and grease the wheels of “the market.” But that problem seems to have been solved with the creation of the trading floor. What would my participation advance in terms of meeting a global need that has yet to be filled?
That said, it was terribly exciting. I understand this was my first time seeing it and that it would likely become commonplace after being part of it day in and day out. My tour guide explained to me that on his first day he did not make a trade until the final minutes of the session, that it was hardly smooth sailing, but that he found his way quickly. And apparently technology is changing modern trading. More trades are being executed online rather than in person. My guide showed me to a room that had once been the floor for livestock trades. It was empty now as business has moved digital. He thinks the same will happen with most commodities within a decade.
Regardless, Terry has been at it for over twenty years and still loves it. He has raw passion for it and cannot see himself doing anything else. If I saw anything today that looked like what I want for myself, that is it.