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KAI RYSSDAL: My big mouth at the end of the broadcast yesterday only wound up costing me about 10 bucks. I said I’d give you a dollar if you could tell me what financial institution San Francisco and Charlotte, North Carolina, have in common. I was trying to set up the next week-and-a-half here at Marketplace, and a special part of our coverage of the financial crisis — a series we’re gonna call “The Road to Ruin?”
I could give you the answer to the question, of course, but it’d be much more fun to bring in our two reporters who’re out on the “Road to Ruin?” and have them tell you.
Tess Vigeland and Amy Scott are crossing the country to explore what Wall Street’s meltdown is doing to individuals and businesses. Hello to you both.
AMY SCOTT: Hey, there!
TESS VIGELAND: Hello, Kai.
RYSSDAL: Amy, let’s start with you. Where are you, and why?
SCOTT: Well, Kai, I am in Charlotte, North Carolina, sitting in front of a major landmark here, the Bank of America corporate center at the corner of Trade and Tryon Streets. And I’m here because this is the modern headquarters of one of this country’s most powerful institutions, Bank of America, which will soon become the world’s largest brokerage after B of A agreed to acquire Merrill Lynch a few weeks ago.
You know, the father of modern-day Bank of America Hugh McCall once told me here in Charlotte that Wall Street is here. This is where Wall Street wishes they were. You know, at the time it seemed a little grandiose, but maybe it wasn’t so far-fetched after all.
RYSSDAL: Tess, what about you? You’re up north, right?
VIGELAND: I am. I’m at the Bank of Italy building at One Powell Street in San Francisco. And, in fact, they’re just turning around the trolley right now. And, I wanted to give you a little bit of history for why we’re here. This is a bank that was founded by A.P. Giannini. And in the 1920s it merged with Bank of America. And he is really famous for keeping the bank up and running after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. He would actually go out on the street and lend money and take deposits while all the other banks clamped down during the crisis. And, of course, today you’ve got a parallel. Bank of America buying up toxic assets that nobody else wants, including those of Merrill Lynch.
RYSSDAL: You bet. Amy, from where you stand, you can probably see a whole bunch of other bank towers besides Bank of America, no?
SCOTT: That’s right. This is a major banking center. Wachovia is also here. And for years there’s been this sort of rivalry between the two banks, with kind of an arms race of shiny, new office towers being built. But, as you know, on Monday Citigroup agreed to buy Wachovia’s banking operations. Citi has said it will keep the combined retail bank based here, but analysts are predicting several thousand layoffs. And, obviously, this is a huge blow for Charlotte.
RYSSDAL: Tess, what about you in San Francisco. Are there still signs of Bank of America at that old Bank of Italy building?
VIGELAND: Yes, in fact, I’m looking at a branch right now. Some folks are taking money out of the ATM. But, I have to tell you, what was once this classic, old, marble and cast-iron fortress — you know, that promised safety for your money — well, Kai, right now it is a paean to consumerism that wants to take your money. It is a massive Forever 21 store.
RYSSDAL: Oh, man. Um, this is Day 1 of what’s going to be a week-and-a-half road trip for you guys. We’re going to meet in St. Louis a week from Friday and do the broadcast from there. Where are you going and what are you going to find in-between?
SCOTT: Well, right this minute, Kai, I’m going to head over and try to get some soul food a few blocks away from here. But I’ll be leaving tonight for Charleston, West Virginia, and then on to Pittsburgh; Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit; and eventually meeting up with you and Tess in St. Louis. And we’re expecting to bring stories from people across the country about how this financial crisis and this economy is affecting them.
RYSSDAL: Tess, what about you? Where are you going between there and St. Louis?
VIGELAND: Well, first I’ll be heading to Reno where I am told there are casinos that rival Wall Street. Then I’ll be heading to Salt Lake City and Denver — of course, a swing state where we’ll take a look at how this is affecting voter decisions on the presidential race. Then Lincoln, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; and then we’ll be meeting you in St. Louis.
RYSSDAL: All right, you guys, we’ll see you there. It is the “Road to Ruin?” Marketplace’s Tess Vigeland and Amy Scott on the road for us. Thanks, guys. Bye-bye.
SCOTT: All right. Bye-bye.
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