Walking Off the Wall Street Bears

a metaphorical self-guided walking tour through the heart of New York's Financial District, with reflections on the state of the American economy in late 2007, by a self-taught art critic. Be advised. Another special feature from Walking Off the Big Apple.

I'm visiting Wall Street to take some snapshots (more mental than photographic) of the looming economic crisis. I want to see if traders, fund managers, and other workers in the financial sector reveal any outward signs of distress. Will they walk and talk a different way? Will they be nervous and spilling their coffee on the sidewalk? We'll see! As with the other walks, I'll be commenting on buildings, restaurants, etc., but I'll also be chiming in with my amateur economic knowledge to translate the mood of the Street.

Let's begin with a few quotes, shall we?

"Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous—a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!" - Herman Melville (1819-1891), Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street (1853)

"Out of the din, overlooking the struggle, are, here, and there oases of silence, where self-contained men sit in carpeted offices behind guarded doors, armed with pens whose briefest tracings spell poverty or wealth; their fingers pressing tiny buttons that sway the markets of the world. " - From Charcoals of New and Old New York. Pictures and Text by F. Hopkinson Smith. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company. 1912. Image here of Wall Street by F. Hopkinson Smith.

Walking Off the Wall Street Bears: A Subprimer 

I am no financial genius, but the colonel and I sold our happy little bungalow in the American South a couple of years ago, a time of a local bubble, and we made a bit of money, albeit a pittance compared to New York real estate profits. * We also got rid of our cars. We were moving to Manhattan, after all, where bungalows do not exist, although I think they would make a charming addition to the landscape, and cars seemed way too much of an inconvenience.

Much of the worries on Wall Street these days stem from the crisis in subprime mortgages, risky loans to often credit-risky individuals to buy homes for themselves. However, these individuals found themselves overwhelmed financially with often high adjustable rate mortgages, and they faced foreclosure. Some of the lenders are also up a creek. All this is just sad. Manhattan, on the other hand, does not see much subprime action at all, because people buying condos and townhouses at 4 to 6 million and up are not financing these purchases through subprime mortgages. New Yorkers of means only deal in prime, like a yummy slice of prime rib roast.

Walking down Wall Street, I visualize the world I have seen outside the confines of Manhattan, one of a variety of homes - ranch houses, bungalows, Cape Coders, MacMansions, adobe houses, shotgun houses, and all the American vernacular, and all the people inside of them, figuring out how to manage their budgets. The elegant Federalist, Gothic Revival, Art Deco, and Beaux-Arts buildings in the Wall Street area, on the other hand, seem removed from this aforementioned crisis, like they're on an island.

WARNING: WOTBA's limited economic knowledge should not be used by real people engaged in financial speculation. I'm just going for the visuals on all this.

Image: Dorothea Lange. 1939. "Washington, western, Thurston County. Malone Company house in abandoned mill village now occupied by Work Projects Administration (WPA) worker." Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection.

* However, WOTBA obviously has way too much time on her hands and should get a JOB.

Walking Off the Wall Street Bears: With George, and a Rally!

How spectacular Wall Street was this afternoon and prime for a little rally! I spent much of my time soaking in just a taste of afternoon sun that broke through the clouds, strolling up and down the short stretch of this expensive and historic real estate. Wall Street is cavernous and narrow, but the light that filters through on the east and west provides for some sexy lighting. Tiffany's has joined the street, very near a Starbucks, so there's much caffeinated glamour to take in.

I sat for awhile behind the statue of George Washington in front of Federal Hall and pondered his left foot. Across the street sits the House of Morgan, so it was the perfect place to contemplate the founding of the United States of America and the flourishing of the capitalist system. I reached no conclusions. I did venture into Federal Hall to look over the preview of the coming National Archives presence in the main exhibition halls, and I was excited to see many important documents of American history. Maybe if more people knew about this exhibit I would not be the only visitor. The gift shop is a good place to buy gifts relating to George Washington.

In financial news of the day, Wal-Mart reported surprisingly good earnings, largely due to its early discounts for the holidays. This great news rallied investors, cheered that consumers will buy enough merchandise for everyone throughout the merry season. Wal-Mart has attempted to open stores in New York City, but we have scared them off. You can read all about it here (NYT).

Image: Drawing in pen and colored pencil of the left foot of the statue of George Washington. Federal Hall. Wall Street. November 13, 2007.