NEW YORK (AP) — Pete Meegan had every intention of going back to college, but then he got a summer job in the Chicago trading pits and fell in love with the “roar” of the floor, the excitement of “4,000 people yelling, ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’” and decided no more classroom for him.
That roar will soon go silent. On Monday, most futures pits in Chicago and New York, where frenzied buying and selling once helped set prices on cattle and corn, palladium and gold, and dozens of other commodities, are expected to close for good. Traders yelled and shoved and flashed hand signals, just as they did in the movie “Trading Places.” But now the computer — faster, cheaper and not nearly as noisy — has taken over.
It will be a sad day for Meegan, still in the pits 34 years after dropping out of college, donning a trading jacket and mustering the courage to tell his dad.
“I thought he was gonna kill me, but he was like, ‘I don’t care if you pick up garbage or you’re a dog groomer. If you are happy doing what you are doing, you’re ahead of 99 percent of the people in the world,’” recalls Meegan, now 54.
Working on a trading floor is, in its own way, every bit as stressful as combat, though without the risk of death or significant injury. Indeed, death or injury is the worst that can happen to you in combat. In the pits, you face catastrophic financial disaster, which can be tougher to face than mere death.
The pits are at once competitive and cutthroat, and oddly collegial. After all, if you stand next to your competition every day for years on end, you’re bound to make enough small talk during slow periods to establish a bond of respect, if not admiration.
I was at the Chicago Board Options Exchange, rather than the Merc. Still the fundamentals of open outcry are the same.
Making Trading Places today with online trading would make for a much less interesting movie.