RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The recession has changed Wall Street, and this summer we'll look at how it's changing the lives of the people who worked there. We begin in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Ridgewood is a tidy bedroom community about 25 miles north of New York City. Business Week recently listed it as one of the several dozen places that would be hit hardest by the financial crisis. That's because one in six residents in Ridgewood work in finance or real estate.
Many built their lives on Wall Street. Now their future is uncertain. And David Greene, you're our guest host this week, but you also paid a visit to Ridgewood.
DAVID GREENE, host:
I did. It was actually last week, Renee, and I took the train there from Manhattan. It's about a 25-minute ride or so.
(Soundbite of train horn)
GREENE: Okay. And there's a little sound of the trip that I wanted to play for you.
Unidentified Man #1 (Conductor): (Unintelligible) Ridgewood. Ridgewood.
MONTAGNE: So that sounds like one of those classic bedroom suburbs. Tell us what it looks like.
GREENE: That's exactly what it is. There's the commuter train station that everyone knows very well, and it's really the center of town. And there's this street, Ridgewood Avenue, that runs away from the train station past, you know, flower shops, jewelry stores.
Mr. GUS LAINIS (Owner, The Daily Treat): And you have a bank here, post office is right there.
GREENE: This is one of my tour guides, Renee. His name is Gus Lainis and he's owned a diner right in town called The Daily Treat for 40 years. And Lainis has his regular crowd that comes in every morning.
Mr. LAINIS: Like 6:00, they know each other. It's like a group. You know, and one day someone doesn't show up, hey, what happened, you know? Second day don't show up, they will call them up.
MONTAGNE: And David, you always find the diners first, but what of your other impressions? Did you get a sense that life had really changed there?
GREENE: Well, that's why I wanted to play you some sound of Main Street and the train, you know, to give you a sense of what life is normally like. And my impression is just how much these sounds were ingrained in people for years. This was the routine - this commute. You walked up Ridgewood Avenue, stopped for coffee, a paper, said hi to your conductor, got on the train, went to the city, came home at night.
And now for some people this routine is just gone. And instead of these sounds of the train in the morning, a group of men that I met hear this…
Unidentified Man #2: Almighty most merciful Father, we have…
GREENE: This is a morning prayer session at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Ridgewood.
Unidentified Men: We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…
GREENE: And Renee, this is a weekday morning about 8:30 a.m.
MONTAGNE: And so rush hour.
GREENE: Exactly. It's rush hour and it's when a man named Kenneth Weimann would have been at work on Wall Street by this time of morning. And now that he's out of work, his days are so different.
Mr. KENNETH WEIMANN (Unemployed): Just trying to have some type of routine, but it's not the routine I want. So I started to redo a bathroom that I've wanted to do and just keep the yard up. Just to be doing something.
GREENE: And so Weimann's 54 years old and he worked for 25 years on the floor as a member of the New York Stock Exchange. And now once a week he comes here to this church to be part of a fellowship group. And the group's called Men in Transition. It started up last year to help people in Ridgewood deal with losing jobs and the struggle to find new jobs. And the group is open only to men. And Weimann says that's made it easier to be open.
Mr. WEIMANN: Being the breadwinner or the notion or the conception of that that we've always had growing up, to start talking in front of a woman about that, maybe they don't see it the same way we do.
GREENE: So I sat in on this group's meeting and hung around after to chat with them. But the numbers vary - sometimes it's more than a dozen. On this day it was five men sitting around a table. The man to my right, Phillip Sorace, was a corporate financial consultant and then a CEO of a small bank. And during the meeting he was talking about how hard it's been. He's been trying to start his own financial consulting business now, but he hasn't nailed down any clients yet.
Mr. PHILLIP SORACE (Former Corporate Financial Consultant): I was running around developing opportunities, making contacts, new opportunities, new things, as if I had a staff that I could turn around and say, you follow up on this, I want you to go after that. Those days are over, you know? I do this by myself now.
GREENE: What's interesting is these guys would be the first to tell you that they don't think anybody feels sorry for them. If millions of people around the country have lost jobs in this recession, why would anyone care about a group who worked in the middle of Wall Street? And so they deal with their fears and their worries quietly in this room every week.
One member sitting at the table, Robert Delaney, was also a Wall Street broker, just like Kenneth Weimann, who we heard before. And Delaney said even though the two of them live in the same town and hung out, they always kept their guard up around each other until they both sat down here for that first fellowship meeting.
Mr. ROBERT DELANEY (Former Stockbroker): And obviously Kenny and I were, as well as colleagues, were competitors in a face-to-face basis on the New York Stock Exchange for 20-some-odd years. And so I said to him at the end of the conversation that it's probably the most honest conversation we'd had in the whole 25 years.
GREENE: What was different? I mean, was it a shared vulnerability or was it…
Mr. DELANEY: There was no singing "Kumbaya" or anything, but it was…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WEIMANN: Yeah, no…
Mr. DELANEY: It was just about that we were no longer in the same shoes that we had been in previously, so it was much easier for us to talk about.
GREENE: And they've been spending their days in entirely new ways, doing things they never did before. Phil Sorace, that former bank CEO, told me about when a church official came to this Men in Transition fellowship group and asked if they wanted to help out and cook for a nearby homeless shelter. And the group said, yeah, let's do it. But they wanted to give the meal their own touch.
Mr. SORACE: Rather than just doing the casserole bit, why don't we, you know, do a barbecue for these guys? And we'll, you know, get some chicken and whatever and we'll barbecue it up, and you know, all of the accouterments that go with it, what have you. And he said okay.
GREENE: And now, Renee, one member of the group had a little trouble with the cornbread.
Mr. SORACE: He misread the directions.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SORACE: The cornbread came out rather crispy. It was more like corn toast.
MONTAGNE: Oh gosh, David. There's an image of Wall Street executives tripping over each other wearing these dirty aprons.
GREENE: Yeah, that's the image I had as well. And the man we were hearing right there, Phil Sorace, told me that it was a spectacle, but he said the group had a really good feeling after serving these meals to the homeless.
Mr. SORACE: Not that it made us feel any better, or that, gee, look at a good thing that we've done here - this was our way of sharing our group experience with them, and then having, you know, a little bit of a insight into their experience, you know. The sad thing, of course, was that that shelter's been in operation for a long, long time, long before the crash and this economic recession.
MONTAGNE: That little story, David, makes one wonder - Phil Sorace, this former banking CEO there and these other men - are they optimistic about finding work again?
GREENE: They don't really know how to feel right now. I should say these guys are not the super-wealthy corporate executives we hear about. The median household income in Ridgewood is about $120,000. But these men made nice six-figure salaries, they have some savings and so they're not desperate for work.
But some are in their 50s and they know they're probably never going to be on Wall Street again. So they're confused. Do they take a job that pays a lot less than they're used to in a totally new field? And you know, their savings won't last forever, they tell me. And so some are talking about selling their homes, maybe, you know, downsizing.
MONTAGNE: What about leaving Ridgewood entirely?
GREENE: Yeah. I mean, that's one of the questions I really want to look at in the months ahead. Are there ripple effects from this recession that reshape a community like this? You know, if people built their lives on Wall Street and then suddenly are out work, do they stay? Do they leave, go somewhere else, as some already have, and how does this really, you know, affect businesses in town? You know, the restaurants, the dry cleaners, really the whole economy?
MONTAGNE: And so we'll be hearing from you all through summer on this?
GREENE: Definitely, Renee.