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  • Near the intersection of Exchange Place and Broad Street in New York City's financial district, three distinct smells pervade the air: cigarette smoke, pretzels, and construction dust. The steps of the neighboring Federal Hall National Memorial Building serve as lunch tables, a photo backdrop and temporary office desks. A young man carries a yellow placard through the afternoon crowd urging them to “Believe in the Lord Jesus.”

    Lehman Brothers had just filed for bankruptcy; Merrill Lynch had just been bought by Bank of America. Television crews are the only windows into the crisis surrounding the tourist and the citizen. Nobody understands it all, somebody needs to be blamed and everybody seems to know it needs to be documented.

    Tourist traffic marches past the scene unabated: One group obediently follows its guide who shuffles past the crowds. His blue umbrella rises above the bobbing heads, a beacon for his herd. It isn't the first time that stocks bounce randomly. Nor is it the first time that tourists parade outside, a little perplexed. But it is one of those moments at the beginning of a long and painful recession, when everybody seems to stop playing the confidence game, and the tickers, crowds, analysts, and media crews fumble in the dark in unison.

    The Exchange stands behind black metal barricades and security posts. Three New York Police Department vans with four police officers and a sniffer-dog keep watch from a distance. “We’ve been doing this every day after 9/11,” says one officer. "Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 p.m.” A gigantic American flag, installed after 9/11, covers the six Corinthian columns on the Exchange’s façade. Shock and awe manifests itself in small measure here.

    “Things were a little anxious before the opening bell," a floor trader had remarked earlier. "But it’s a normal day inside now.” The market lost 410 points the previous day. It bounced back today by 113, providing short-term cheer and delaying long-term anxiety. By the end of that historic week, the market will have regained all losses.

    Annmarie Gioia, a media representative for the Stock Exchange, escorts a group of media photographers inside the exchange. “There’s never a dull day,” she says as she leads them to a balcony overlooking the trading floor. The photographers aren't pleased with their vantage point. “It’s the second floor gallery, and all you get is a sea of heads," laments one photographer. "Unless someone looks up.”

    A weary trader plops onto his chair as the closing bell rings in the end of the trading day. He rests his elbow on a table and props his head in his hands. There’s sudden activity in the gallery, as photographers turn their cameras toward him with a volley of clicks. The trader closes his eyes, visibly tired. More clicks follow.

    9/15/2008, New York City.
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