Raunchy porn magazines littered the dashboard. It smelled like rotting fruit, stale beer and dirty diapers.
“The other driver loves to keep the dirty stuff. He picks it out of people’s trash” he said. “I wouldn’t touch those without gloves on.”
We were 19 sitting in the sweltering cab of a recycling truck in suburban Chicago, in August. The grass was tall in the ditches next to the roads and the humidity held our sweat to our skin beneath our shirts. Something for the stench to cling.
He invited me “On The Route” so I went, now regretful, nose burning.
My friend confessed “it’s a good job but I don’t want to be doing this my whole life. I just can’t go to school. It’s a waste of time. Who are these teachers? They just throw stuff at you. This is real education.”
My friend was the epitome of the James Dean type. Every girl ogled him but he was faithful to his girlfriend, contrarian, reckless but smart (once crashing his Dad’s new Mustang while driving underage, ditching it to avoid the police), questioning authority philosophically, appearing always like he stepped off the pages of a JCrew catalog (the most influential mail order of the time). I was not much like him, but we became best friends. I wanted to start a jazz club in Chicago called “Birdland.” We were obsessed with jazz. We had big plans. Always circling around how we’d leave our mark on the world, not sure how to start. Uncertain when our break would come, chasing.
We’d both dropped out of high school the same year. I tested into college and he went to work driving a recycling truck.
He drove the route every day while I tore through classes, tripling credit hours to graduate early.
But I didn’t have a job plan. I felt like I should. Anxiety was growing.
Sitting in the parlor of the house I shared with 4 girls and another guy, watching ticker symbols stream on CNBC two weeks before graduation, I had a flash: “can someone trade for a living?”
I graduated in December with two interviews at brokerage firms.
“Hey man I’m going downtown Monday to interview. You should come.”
“What are you talking about. I’m not going with you to your job interview.”
“Dude, it’s just an interview. You can introduce yourself and see if they have anything else. Seriously, no big deal. Come with.”
We took an early train from Barrington and met a guy in the office of Eurospread Associates, where some of my cousins un-coincidentally worked. “I didn’t expect two?” he said. We acted dumb and shrugged. He ushered us onto the trading floor. “People are gonna say shit. Just ignore them. Don’t take it personally.”
It was nothing we’d seen before: mass chaos, colored jackets, hands in the air, faces screaming, spitting and sweating. The floor was littered with paper.
Traders & clerks laughed and pointed at us chanting “fresh meat,” flipping trading cards our way like flat paper bullets.
We were overwhelmed by stimulus, captivated. You could feel the money.
“I didn’t know we were hiring two” one broker said.
My friend and I looked at each other “I guess you are” I said.
“Okay, fill out these forms. You can start January 3rd. I’ll put one of you in Yen and the other in the LIBOR pit. You’ll start as runners.” He got Yen, I got LIBOR.
We rolled out of the building laughing, high-fiving. “What just happened?!”
Two weeks later we walked onto the CME floor and started our future.
A year later I was hired at Michael Stoltzner’s Futrex Trading, training with Jeff Goldman (one of the largest EuroOptions traders) on weekends and went on to develop trading systems at Specialists DPM and Edge LLC until I left to pursue my dream on the West Coast.
People will tell you the better path is the path in pursuit of something they can see. The path that looks good on paper and reflects well when you tell your new girlfriend’s parents. They don’t like recycling trucks they like money and power and sophistication and houses in suburbs.
But when you climb the unfamiliar trail in front of you to the top of the first mountain, only then can you find the next mountain beyond.
16 years and witness to suicides, rehabs, parties, stories, more money than God, investigations, lawsuits, lies and fistfights, he’s a successful options broker at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. He didn’t need a college degree to get educated but he had to have the guts to hang on.
And I’ll tell you the secret they don’t want you to know: it’s not the cab of a recycling truck but it’s still filled with raunchy porn, smells like stale beer, rotting fruit and dirty diapers. There’s just more money and more pixels, and looks better on TV.
Me? I just like to watch.