The Golden Age of Wall Street: Part IV
Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
August 2, 2004
In wrapping up this series about my Wall Street summer job in the days
before financial deregulation, I will look at the things that we going on
outside of the office. I left things hanging in Part
III by noting that my primary reading material for the second summer
was a book that changed my life. That book was Watson's
Play of the Hand, a comprehensive offensive and defensive guide
to playing out bridge hands. Although it is still in print, very few
bookstores carry it. In a world of books for dummies and idiots, Watson's
book just doesn't fit in.
Though I earned my poker chops in the summer of 1970
playing all-night games with a bunch of kids from West Texas (Odessa and
Midland mainly—I'm not making this up), it was not until I arrived at
Caltech that I got serious about bridge. Dabney,
my infamous student house, had a bridge game going from lunch 'til dawn.
During peak bridge hours, before and after dinner, two games were usually
going—one for freshmen and one for upperclassmen. Freshmen tended to bid
according to Goren's standard American and beginners' mistakes were
rampant. Upperclassman used the Precision and Italian Blue Team bidding
systems and would compete in local tournaments on Friday and Saturday
nights. Sometime after midnight, the two tables might merge and then a
special bidding system that incorporated "frosh transfers,"
which assured that the upperclassmen would get to play most hands, would
come into play. A mastery of Watson's "Play of the Hand" was
much of what it took to graduate to the big leagues of Caltech bridge.
Play of the Hand is an exceptional book because
it takes an extremely complex problem, how to play a hand of bridge, and
structures so that although it cannot in any formal way be
"solved," it can, with substantial effort on the part of the
reader, be understood. Working through the book takes dedication and
persistence—the book is not so much meant to be read as to be reread.
But Play of the Hand, like any truly great book, is really a book
about learning how to think. Perhaps that's why it is so hard to find
these days—serious thought, especially concerning problems with no neat
solution, has gone out of fashion.
I must have purchased Watson's book in Pasadena because
nothing like it was for sale in the Wall Street bookstores of the time. On
Wall Street proper, across from the New York Stock Exchange, was a trading
and investing bookstore that I occasionally wandered through but whose
books were out of my price range. Mass-market paperbacks, which were still
under a dollar back then, were sold at the Hallmark store on Broadway. Jonathan
Livingston Seagull and I'm OK, You're OK were the big books of
the day and there were displayed across from a mass of Snoopy
Most of my book-browsing came during my half-hour lunch
break. McDonald's was still in the suburbs—it had yet to discover it's
true calling as an inner-city food service provider—and so the only
truly fast food were hot dogs and such from street vendors. Battery Park
was home to several vendors and that was where I had lunch most of my
first summer. (Mister Softie, the ice cream truck not Bill Gates' company,
is one of the few survivors from that era.) At the main intersection of
the park, a bona fide bible-thumper sermonized atop a wooden crate. I
would occasionally be his audience of one.
The only sit-down eatery that I frequented was a Chinese
restaurant on Trinity Place that served a big plate of chow mein topped
with fried noodles. It was cheap and temporarily filling. There was always
"The Chock" on Broadway, but I had already outgrown my addiction
to their chocolate milk and powered wheat donuts.
For much of the summer of 1972, I had pizza and calzone
for lunch. Broadway Pizza, also known as "Pizza Pizza" because
of the sign outside of it, was a literal hole-in-the-wall on Exchange
Place between Broadway and the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike the
Rayified pizza of contemporary Manhattan, Broadway Pizza's pizza was
usually served hot out of the oven. As each pie came out of the oven, the
crowd that spilled out onto the sidewalk would jockey to get a slice.
Novice and impatient eaters would suffer serious burns to the roofs of
their mouths. Their pizza was certainly good enough, though better was to
be found back in Jersey and across the bridge in Brooklyn (John Travolta's
placement of their product was still a few years away).
Broadway Pizza's specialty was its calzones. Although
calzones are commonplace now, they were a rare item back then. One day, I
brought a calzone back to Graphic Scanning and one of my
"bosses" (after Miles skipped out, my only real boss was Barry)
wanted a bite. He immediately became hooked. I ended up not only bringing
him back a calzone every day, I would get him dozens of uncooked calzones
so that he could take them home and cook them up for parties. If this
sounds familiar, it's because there is an episode of Seinfeld in
which George Steinbrenner becomes addicted to calzones that George
Costanza brings him. Maybe I should sue.
On days when I was feeling especially prosperous, I
would get a sandwich, a potato knish, and a pickle from Wolf's
Delicatessen on Broadway. While the food was not quite as good as the
midtown delis (and the atmosphere was a bit lacking as well), Wolf's had
no competition in the financial district and was always crowded at
When it was either rainy or beastly hot and I had time
to kill, I would go over to the visitors' gallery at the New York Stock
Exchange. There was no more than token security back then—you just
walked into 20 Broad Street, took the designated elevator up, and there
you were. It had a small theatre where a short film about the Exchange
played continuously, some exhibits, and a view out over the Exchange
itself. Sometimes, I was the only visitor; other times, I shared the place
with a Girl Scout troop or such.
My most recent visit to the Exchange was with my younger
daughter in August 2001. We had to get tickets and then wait in a line
that snaked through New Street, the famous alley behind the Exchange. We
went through airport-style security and the pizzas that we being delivered
to the exchange passed through a van equipped with X-ray equipment and
German Shepherds—we called them "pizza-sniffing dogs." Pizzas
can no longer be delivered to the Exchange and visitors are not allowed
Before financial deregulation and FNN (which merged into
CNBC), Wall Street simply wasn't a tourist attraction. Most of all the
tourists in the area were in Battery Park waiting to take the ferry over
to the Statue of Liberty; however, the more adventurous ones could be
found wandering among the tombstones next to Trinity Church.
Next week, I shall return to the dangerous present with
"Uncle Possum's Handbook of Mutual Fund Scams."
Copyright 2004 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission
granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250
words or less provided a citation is made to www.millerrisk.com.