fan on the floor
phone on the bed.
and Ring ring ring
It’s 12:51 in the morning. If I’m up, you’re up. That’s the deal.
“It’s hard to believe that you had another life before all of this,” my daughter said at the dinner table.
“You just left the Board of Trade and that was it.”
She is correct. I traded at the Chicago Board of Trade for 18 years and then just left one day. I changed my cellphone number. Since I live in Indiana, it wasn’t that hard to forget about everyone.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was addicted. I was addicted to actual trading. It’s been 14 years since I placed a trade. Some guys find this hard to believe. But the moment I have a trade on, it’s all I think about. Even a one lot.
It wasn’t just the trading addiction, which I hope will one day be treated as an illness. Somehow, the whole Board of Trade experience polluted my soul. It took years to filter it out. I’m not sure the process is complete.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I got out and re-established a life outside of the Board of Trade. This may not sound like much. Guys leave their occupations all the time and take new ones. But this is different.
I don’t think I can really explain it in a couple thousand words here in this blog, which isn’t about trading but about radio. But the Board of Trade dragged you in and wouldn’t let go. I can honestly say that for years after I left, I was wounded, addicted. I had real trouble adapting to civilian life.
Others have, too. That’s what this blog entry is all about. Others have too.
Last night, I decided not to go to a wake for a guy I used to trade with. I just couldn’t do it. Suicide is not painless.
Why so many guys from the Chicago Board of Trade have either killed themselves or have taken deep dives, I have no idea. Maybe the Board of Trade attracted a certain type. It’s a type that can keep going as long as the music plays. But once it stops, they’re doomed. We’re doomed.
Or maybe we got conditioned to a pace of life, a respect from Chicago, and a ton of money. Pace, respect, money. Remove these and it’s just not the same. After a while, your wife looks over at you and realizes that there is a new reality. What then?
Really, what then? I can tell you that since I left the pits of the Board of Trade, it has been very difficult transitioning to a life without the pace, respect and money.
I loved the pace. By the last few years, I had a trade oon ALL THE TIME. I’d trade all day in the pit, leave a position on for overnight, and then I’d get up in the middle of the night to do more trades.
For a while, I had computers in my basement. I hired guys to sit there next to the pool table to watch my trades. If the market moved, good or bad (mostly bad), they’d have to tiptoe past the kids’ rooms to our bedroom door.
Knock, knock, knock. JED, we just lost a bunch of money.
Oh well, I’d say, standing at the door of the bedroom. Thanks.
I’d try to go back to bed. But since I’d just lost a bunch of money, I’d more often than not put some sweats on and join the guys at the computers. Our power bill went way up during this period.
Respect, too. As a trader, you pretty much ruled Chicago. We had the reputation of spending lavishly at bars and restaurants and grossly over-tipping. It was a challenge when this had to stop.
No more cavalier aura. No more cash is king attitude. You had to adjust or you’d run out of money. A lot of guys didn’t adjust. That caused problems. Next thing you know there’s a funeral or a studio apartment with questionable water pressure.
Money. Yes, the money. You’re damaged goods after you make so much money so easily. Your view of the world is warped. You think that making money as you did for a period is how it should be. You never consider that your hectic, cavalier days are over. And the flow of money has stopped. You want it all to continue. It doesn’t. You’re screwed.
When I left the Board of Trade, I pretty much left it all behind. I had a few friends that I turned my back on. They called and emailed. I didn’t answer. They even came down and visited. After a polite conversation, I turned chilly. Time to go. That life is over.
It was the only way. I feel bad about doing it this way, but I was gonna go down if I didn’t quit cold turkey. All of it. The pace. The respect. The money.
So now do you believe me when I say tell you that radio saved my life? It very well could have.
I’m feeling guilty about not going to the guy’s wake last night. We weren’t great friends. I would have been going to see the old crowd as much as pay my respects. I would probably still be out drinking right now if I had gone. It’s 1:17 in the morning. There might have even been a little jet fuel going around. That’s a whole ‘nother topic for another day.
The task ahead is to understand why so many men descended into dark times after the Board of Trade. I know their stories. I could certainly tell them. But what good would that do?
In answer to my own question, it might actually save a life or two. It’s not on many people’s radar that there was a phenomenon associated with former traders at the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Back then, we traded in pits, yelled at each other for money. This went on for 170 years. And then the music stopped.
What happened to the men who were there when the music stopped? That’s a question that should be answered. The problem is that I’m probably not the one to answer it. My solution to dealing with the downward spiral on the horizon has been to disengage entirely from what I used to be. It’s as if I balled up that whole section of my life and packed it away in an attic at the back of my head.
It’s there. I could unroll the past and examine it. But what good would that do?
There’s that question again. I didn’t go to the guy’s wake tonight. I just didn’t want to see a wife standing up there trying to be strong, shaking hands, hugging people, having short little conversations.
“I’m JED. I used to trade with your husband. Sincere condolences to you and your family.”
A few weeks ago, I walked into a place to have lunch and there was guy I used to trade with sitting at the bar.
“You hear so-and-so offed himself?”
“Well, he did. There goes another one.”
I don’t know what to do with this. I’m feeling guilty as hell right now that I changed my phone number and didn’t have contact with just about everyone from my former life. This was not as difficult to do as you might think. I live in Indiana, 27 miles from the Board of Trade. It’s not far at all. In the wee hours of the morning, I could make it there in half an hour.
Most of the guys who traded at the Board live in Illinois. And there’s kind of iron curtain between Illinois and Indiana. If you live on one side of the line, you stay there. If you live in Indiana, you rarely cross except to go to Sox games or out to eat. I rarely go into Illinois except to go to Chicago for dinner. And it’s never my idea.
You, the three or four of you, turn to this blog to hang out with me as I undergo the death of radio and rebirth of something else. We’re doing important work. When it’s all said and done, the Calumet Region should have not only a couple of working radio stations but also a working TV network. We have never had a working TV station. That’s my mission right now.
This is important work and sometimes it may be interesting to you how I live my life and what I do. I’m a dying breed. There won’t be any of us left soon.
Now that you think about it, isn’t this similar to the life that I lived at the Board of Trade? Computers came in and ruined the pits. Almost all trades now, except for some options, get matched on a computer. A whole way of life died when the pits went away.
What’s gonna happen when radio goes away? Or will it?
In a weird way, trading had a rebirth. It was on the computer. A few of the guys I knew made the transition. They once were pit traders. Then they became computer traders. And they’ve done well. They shored up their lives with money and a purpose.
To some extent, this is a life transition model that I follow. I already lived the death of one iconic industry and its rebirth into something else. I am not afraid of the death of radio.
Don’t get me wrong. I would have loved to buy a couple radio stations and have it be like it was when I worked at WJOB right out of college. WJOB was the shit. It was everything to this Calumet Region. It was the only place to go during the day for up-to-the-minute news and for quirky personalities. Now, these things are everywhere. Radio’s just a part of the mix.
But there are other opportunities. As with some traders at the Board of Trade, I have a skillset that can be transferred to another area. Some guys went back to school for computers or apprenticed to others who knew computer trading. They transformed themselves.
Is that what I’m doing? Am I transforming myself into a different kind of radio guy?
I don’t know. I do know this. Along the way, whatever it is I’m doing, I enjoy it. I’m awake now in the middle of the night bemoaning the fact that so many of the guys that I used to trade with killed themselves. I don’t like to think about it. I don’t want to stand in line at a funeral home and hug a woman I’ve never met, tell her how sorry I am. I just don’t want to do that.
But I do like to wake up every day and run my radio stations. In a couple of hours, I’ll roll out of bed next to my wife of 27 years. I may or may not shower. I’ll fry up a couple eggs then get in the car and drive to the stations. They’re on a beautiful college campus. I’ll strap on a microphone, stand outside and yell at steel haulers going by. It’s a great life. I can’t tell you how grateful I am