The wide, low-slung streets of D.C. outside the bus window shape-shift into highway boulevards and then, eventually, massive blocks of gray and brown that intrude into the sky. As I exit the bus a neon buzz and swollen sidewalks greet me: Welcome to New York.
It’s summer, the time when kids who are almost college seniors try out the real world of gainful employment. For me, that means working in media in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. For many of my close friends, though, it means working in banking, private equity, or any company whose last name is Capital.
One such friend picks me up from the bus stop by Penn Station—he’s working at a large, well-known bank and has just left the office early (11 p.m. on Friday) to greet me. We both look sharp: me in a striped dress and blue blazer, he in slacks and a jacket, his tie hanging loose. Our friendship has never looked this put together.
Despite my heavy bags we walk the 30 blocks downtown and east to his apartment. On the way I hear about his work and the derivatives department where he’s interning. To me, derivatives are a way to find instantaneous velocity, but to him they’re a way to make money, grow capital. My friend tries to explain how derivatives are different from futures and options, which just makes me confused about all three.
As we near his apartment on the Lower East Side we pass by his office: a towering skyscraper. The white marble lobby is studded with columns and painted portraits of past presidents of the bank. I imagine this bank back when the heavy revolving doors opened into a lobby of shouting and rushing traders, men in suits who pounded the floors for the quickest sale, the best trade. Now computers do the actual trading. The empty lobby stands a tribute, in memoriam, to the wealthy gentlemen who scurried and succeeded at this institution.
We continue downtown to the Beekman Beach Club Beer Garden, an outdoor lounge where New York’s “young elite” spend their nights, according to my friend. As its name suggests, the beer garden is fashioned like a beach: It juts out on a pier, a thin layer of sand and white furniture hovering above the East River. Brooklyn is all lit up and blinking, glittering before us, stark against the black sky.
“I’m becoming part of the young elite now,” my friend grins, flashing a half-joking and adoring smile as he moves towards the bar to buy us drinks. It’s expensive here—too expensive for my meager intern budget—but he has too much money and not enough time to spend it this summer.
I first met him when we were both 18. He is from the rural South, a town so remote that the radio signal blurs into static near his house; his home doesn’t have a mailing address since the postal system doesn’t venture that far up into the mountains. At Harvard he prides himself on his humor, his inclusivity and humility, his literary interest and ability to write creatively. If he didn’t become a banker, he says, he would become a poet.
He returns with the white wine I requested. “Imagine the social capital in this place,” he mutters in my ear. We lean against the side rail and survey the crowd. It’s only a matter of time before these banking interns become VPs of something.
Maybe after graduation he will come back here to stay. He will talk about stock options and new types of funds and his weekend getaway in the Berkshires as he sips down drinks in New York’s most glamorous nightclubs. Then on Saturday morning he’ll be back at his desk by 9 a.m., ready to trade.
I hope we still talk about poetry after his ascent.