Steven Katcher arrived at the Wall Street branch of Borders bookstore at 7:25 a.m. on Tuesday five minutes before the store opened, and a full four and a half hours before the target of his mission, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, was due to arrive. "They won't allow me to say much of anything because the line is so long," the retired schoolteacher explained. "Basically, you say hello, how are you, nice to meet you." Not that Katcher was there for investment tips; he simply wanted Greenspan's autograph.
So, too, did his friend Hal Keith. "I have [the autograph of] every President since Lyndon Johnson. And their wives," said Keith. How many other Fed chairmen?
"Were there any?" interjected Katcher.
Further along the line up the escalator, past the CDs, sandwiched between Science and Self Help stood a group of commodities traders. "We've come to get Alan's word on what Ben's going to do in a couple of hours," said Amir Loghmanieh, referring to the afternoon's expected interest rate cut by Greenspan's successor, Ben Bernanke.
"That's why we brought four people, to strong-arm him," said Matt Touloupis, smiling.
So, had they read the book, which had been selling since the day before? No. But the question prompted Oliver Young to remove his copy from the Borders bag he was holding and open it up to the pictures section. "Are there any pictures of Robert Rubin in here?" he asked. "Robert Rubin was here a few years ago. I really like him. I was really excited to meet him." Young found his Rubin picture a reproduction of a 1999 TIME magazine cover that included Greenspan, then-Treasury Secretary Rubin, and Rubin's then-deputy Lawrence Summers. "Yeah, I have this issue," Young said. "This was a great issue."
Further along the line, structural engineer Gommaire Michel waited, hardhat in hand, to pay homage. "He's a great thinker," said Michel. "I listened to him a lot. Every time he made comments in front of Congress, he was very passionate and direct and straightforward. He got to the heart of the matter." Greenspan? Direct? Really? Some people felt he confused an issue or two in his day... "I don't think that's the case," Michel countered. "I found him to be a very solid thinker. He gave us the real stuff."
Not everyone agreed. Gary Saggu, an information technologist for financial firms, confessed to a "love-hate relationship" with the former Fed chairman, whose book has coincided with some questioning of his once untouchable reputation as a result of the turmoil in credit markets. "He was responsible for interest rates of 1%, and that caused a lot of ripple effects, like the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble," Saggu said. So, why line up to get his book signed? "I'm the kind of guy who likes villains in movies."
Etti Beck, a lawyer standing near an end-cap showcasing Oprah's Book Club selection, was considerably more forgiving. "I'm here because he's a celebrity, and I want to be inspired by him," she said. "I don't even have a book because they sold out, but I want to shake his hand, and maybe some of his wisdom will rub off on me."
Gerry Javier, a well-dressed stockbroker, felt a personal debt: "Thanks for the cut, Mr. Greenspan. I made a lot of money. I really appreciated the cut in '98; I really appreciated the cut before that."
At four minutes past noon, Greenspan arrived, and sat down at a long table. Steven Katcher was first through the line. Had Greenspan said anything to him? "No," he said. "You're not here to chat, you're here to sign books. Some people will take the time, like Paul McCartney, and that's why people are still standing on line, waiting, and don't get their books signed."
Did the commodities traders get the tips they'd sought? "I got star-struck," said Matt Touloupis. "It was just sort of open the book to the exact page, give it to him, and leave."
"I said, 'Thanks, Alan,' and he looked up," said Oliver Young.
"He gave me a look, too," reported Nick Pritzakis, beaming.
Ninety minutes later, the line that had snaked around two floors was gone. It was time to approach the star of the show. "I think I signed over 600 books," Greenspan said. How did it feel to be signing books in New York while the tricky business of managing the money supply was now someone else's responsibility?
"It's an incredible choice. Both were fun," he answered. "They're fun in different ways. I mean, you don't measure one against the other." Then he sat down to scroll through his PDA.
Outside, Hal Keith and Steven Katcher stood by the black SUV that was waiting for Greenspan. Each carried a small clipboard with two one-dollar bills rubber-banded down. The rule of the book signing had been autographs on the title page only; this was chance to get Greenspan to sign more. "I doubt it will get done, but we've got nothing to lose," said Keith. "We don't have anywhere to be until 7 p.m."
"Garrison Keillor at Barnes & Noble on 17th Street," Katcher explained.
When Greenspan emerged, Keith and Katcher easily walked up to him and got their greenbacks autographed. Within seconds, dozens of people were mobbing the ex-chairman, waving their own dollar bills. Katcher called out, "Doesn't anyone have a twenty?" and Greenspan smiled.
A woman on the edge of the crowd taking a picture with her cell phone turned to a stranger and asked, "Who is this?"
"Greenspan," said the man.
"Greenspan?" said the woman.