Pop Culture
Apr 11, 2008, 05:59AM

Far Corner, Right Side

A southerner thought he'd try out New York for a little while, then he ended up staying for eight years.

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Photo by bugged out cars

When I moved to New York in early 2000, I did so with mixed feelings. I had followed my friends and the lure of financial upside to Wall Street at a time when the tech bubble hadn’t yet burst and the financial community was enjoying what Alan Greenspan later called an era of “irrational exuberance.”  

I wasn’t qualified for a job in financial services. I was a government major at college, hadn’t taken any courses in economics or finance, had never attempted to land a summer internship on Wall Street, and my knowledge of how the stock market and the overall financial industry worked was elementary at best.

I didn’t have any overwhelming desire to live in New York, either. Sure, it was extremely exciting, but it was far from home and not a city in which I could ever see myself settling down. I viewed my time in New York—then estimated at “two years, three years at most”—as a unique experience to be appreciated later in life.

But as more and more of my college buddies were flown to New York for interviews, being wined and dined, and then offered jobs with truly eye-popping salaries, I felt as though I was missing something. So I scrambled and managed to find a convoluted connection I could leverage to at least talk to someone about how I, with a resume suited for Capitol Hill rather than capital management, could manage to secure one of these coveted Wall Street jobs.  

Unlike my over-qualified peers, a trip to New York for the first meeting with my future boss was on my dime. We’d had a phone interview, and he and I hit it off— bonding over our mutual love of college football and politics. When, at the end of the conversation, he told me I should “fly up” to meet him and some of his colleagues, I jumped at the chance.

On a beautiful October day a few weeks later, I found myself standing in front of his office on Wall Street. All around me, very well dressed, very busy-looking men and women went in every direction, zooming along at that I’m-a-New-Yorker speed, reading The Wall Street Journal while simultaneously carrying cups of coffee. I was amazed and completely terrified.

As his assistant met me at the elevator, I had no idea what to expect. Then we walked through a set of double doors, and what I saw and heard made me feel dizzy. The room was nearly the size of a football field. There were dozens of televisions, all tuned to CNBC and hundreds of people, some standing, some sitting, and some pacing—almost all on the phone. Each person had at least three computer monitors in front of them, each one displaying what appeared to be very complicated data. And the sounds! Phones rang non-stop, computers beeped and chirped, one person yelled at another, another shouted across the room and “f bombs” were dropped at a record pace. I nearly threw up.  

Once in the relative sanctuary offered by a glass-walled office, I tried to collect myself. But my future boss came in almost immediately. We made some small talk—interrupted several times by the phone ringing and his seemingly nonsensical responses to the person on the other end. The nausea began to return. Finally, he said he wanted me to talk to “a few of the guys,” and I was then ushered into another office.

Four hours and 10 interviews later, I was parched, hoarse and completely exhausted. Back in my future boss’ office, it was time to get serious. I’ll never forget what he said next. “A few of the guys liked you, so I think you may have a shot. If you get here and things don’t work out, I’ll fire you. That’s why I like hiring young guys—because I can fire you. If I fire you at age 22, you’ll be fine, life will go on. If I fire someone who is 35, married with kids, it can ruin his life. The job won’t pay much at first, but if things go well, that will change. Any questions?”  Whoa. Where would I start? I meekly (and dishonestly) answered that I didn’t have any questions, and he said that he needed to talk to “the guys” one more time, but that he’d be in touch in few days. With that, I was back to the busy streets of New York, into a cab, on a plane, and back to school.

Undoubtedly, my first boss was suffering from a case of irrational exuberance when he called a week later and offered me a job. I decided to take the leap, and the next two years (three at most) of my life were apparently set.

I’ve now lived in New York for over eight years. I wasn’t fired from my job, and in fact, I loved it and did well. I was in the city on September 11, 2001. It was in New York that I met my wife, and it is where we live together now—about as close to “settled down” as I can imagine. I now zoom by tourists at the I’m-a-New-Yorker pace, drinking my coffee while simultaneously reading The Wall Street Journal. I can’t imagine fewer than four computer monitors in front of me, and the thought of sitting in a quiet office by myself brings on a panic much like the one I felt that October day in 2000.

My wife and I still plan to return to the South—some day. Clearly my credibility in terms of a timeline for leaving New York is long ago exhausted. For the time being, though, I’m a New Yorker, and a proud one at that.

  • as a fellow southern loyalist, I can finally say we've gotten back at those carpet bagging yankee dogs. please let part 2 detail what it was like driving your authentic general lee replica into times square while hollerin nonsense to those pink haired, nose ring havin sodomites.

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  • the "general lee" replica never fails to attract attention, particularly when we enter the car via the windows since the doors don't open. and when i sound the horn (which is the tune to "dixie" as you probably recall) that really gets the new yorkers riled up! sometimes if she's bored, my wife will put on her best pair of "daisy dukes" and come along for the ride.

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