'Will bank for food' reads the sign in New York's financial district, as our reporter watches the US economic meltdown at close quarters
After a somewhat fraught taxi journey in which the driver circumnavigates the city to drop me off on Gold Street before asking me to spell my desired location, I arrive minutes after the announcement has filtered through that the bailout package has been voted down. As I step out of the cab, shares are plummeting. And they continue to plummet. By the time I have walked from one end of the street to the other, world history has been made.
So, what is the atmosphere on the most famous financial street in the world at the very moment the US economy crashes into meltdown? Well, it actually feels like parade day at Disneyland. No traders, no suits, no Blackberries or business meetings. Just tourists, backpacks, cameras - and opportunists trying to make a quick buck off the heightened interest with street shows and magic tricks.
As the crowds and TV crews gather round the stock exchange building listening out for the bell to signal the end of the trading day, I sneak round into a back street to see if I can catch an investor or two having a cheeky cigarette - I figure that if it was me that had just lost millions of dollars, that's where I'd be.
And there, behind those huge, grand buildings, down the back alleys, there they are in their hoards. Like naughty schoolboys playing corporate dress-up, they skulk and huddle - pink shirts, slicked-back hair, thick necks and Marlboro Reds aplenty. Through the haze of smoke I can see from the looks on their faces that it is going to be tough getting anyone to talk. And who can blame them? The last hour has been the worst in every single one of their careers.
As I step out of the cab, shares are plummeting. By the time I have walked from one end of the street to the other, world history has been made
I eventually manage to find a couple of investors willing to talk on the record - they actually seem more concerned about having to stand so close to each other to fit in the camera screen than about the huge losses. Their message came as no surprise: “We've lost a lot of money today. Millions. You won't find many people to talk to. Everyone is hiding under their desks right now.”
We walk and talk back to the main street and all the action - so what do they think of the refusal to back the bailout package? There are no words, it seems. They both just shake their heads and gesture around the street as more camera crews gather and passers-by and tourists look on, cameras poised to document the carnage at 4pm.
Then they walk off, eyes slightly glazed, heads down and into the nearest store - for more cigarettes, alcohol - or both, I reckon.
Tensions are running high. Indeed, a fight has just broken out between an American journalist and a UK tourist over 9/11. The financial crisis is put on hold for a second - well, in the case of the media, anyway - as crews surge to catch a piece of the action. As insults are flying - “Why don't you get some f***ing balls?” etc etc - the first investor to emerge from the stock exchange almost slips away unnoticed. Almost.
And there, behind those huge, grand buildings, down the back alleys, they skulk and huddle - pink shirts, slicked-back hair, thick necks and Marlboro Reds aplenty
He is spotted and suddenly finds himself surrounded by journalists, as the Brit and the Brooklyn journalist continue to scream at each other in the background. In true, good ol' US-of-A style, Mr Investor smiles and laughs the crisis off as questions are fired at him: “Who do you work for?” “How much have you lost?” “What happens now?”
He answers mine - “So, what are your plans for tonight, then?” - with something about a labradoodle, and, when I ask if he'll be worrying, he says (or rather, lies): “No. I'll sleep beautifully tonight.” Hmmm; doubtful, unless he has a sizeable stash of Valium in his bedside drawer.
As the traders and investors start to pour out of the buildings, it's hard to tear myself away from all the drama - but after two hours on Wall Street, once you've seen a hundred depressed men in suits you've kind of seen them all.
Also I am a bit concerned I might accidentally buy some shares - people keep coming up and shouting company names and numbers at me, telling me they can make me rich. It's just all too confusing! So I leave the Asian TV crews racing around, still filing reports, feeding through information as the share crashes start to affect their own economies, and my new friend from Sky News is doing the same as he reports back live to the UK.
What do they think of the refusal to back the bailout package? There are no words, it seems. They just shake their heads
Just when I am thinking my Wall Street experience is over, I am nearly knocked over by a man who is as mad as a box of frogs and actually looks like a cartoon character. He has huge glasses, a mop of curly hair and is holding a sign saying “Will bank for food”. He thrusts the sign in my face before screaming “SELL, SELL, SELL!” into an imaginary phone, then darts off into the crowds.
It's a bizarre end to one of the most amazing afternoons of my career as a journalist.
<a href="http://www.building.co.uk/archive/3123740.article" target="_blank"> Oh, and as for the Cat Killer? I'll keep you posted. </a>.