Our Cortisol is Airborne

Today, the stock markets accelerated last week’s belly flop, stopping just 1% short of bear market territory and threatening to end the eleven year old bull market. Entering “uncharted territory,” a fresh fight between Russia and OPEC could “lock up credit markets,” a Fed who confused a virus with a monetary policy issue, and trillions in investor’s money has vaporized. Sometimes you hear the term “black swan.”

At the same time, and what kicked off global markets’ death spiral last week, was, of course, coronavirus. It seems Italy “shut down the country” today (whatever that means), conferences all over the world are being cancelled, including one of mine. “The United States is not ready” for the virus the WHO tonight declared is “close to a global pandemic,” over $100 billion in airline losses may rack up, they say, and Costco’s doomsday sales are through the roof, defying market trends.

It’s even supposed to rain in Los Angeles all week. That’s never supposed to happen, and I pay too much in rent for this.

In short, there’s a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the air. Forget COVID-19, our collective cortisol is now airborne.

And yet…

And yet. Yesterday, Sunday, we drove up to Venice. The sun was shining down brilliantly. The ocean breeze turned LA’s hazy air impossibly clear. So clear that one could almost make out a few Malibu mansions across the Santa Monica bay, where white sails dotted a postcard perfect Pacific. I actually found a parking spot.

Something about yesterday in Venice was the most positive moment I’ve ever been in so far. And I’ve been around for a minute. To try to (inadequately) capture just a few micro interactions in the span of an hour or so…

First, there was the impromptu, ragtag roller skating dance troupe. I don’t think they really knew what they were doing, but I also think they were having too much fun smiling, dancing, and laughing to give a crap at 2:00 pm on an unflinchingly sober Sunday afternoon.

Then there was the guy who randomly started chatting us up with the biggest, most disarming smile I’ve seen in some time. He was so enthralled with the roller dancers that he almost couldn’t contain himself. Enjoy your time in Venice! He called as floated on to chat up some more folks.

We kept walking down to Muscle Beach, which was under construction. A few body builders were hanging around anyway, including a behemoth of a human clowning around in the sand playgrounds, cutting TikToks, perched on an enormous portable speaker. The A-listers on their Malibu verandas probably mistook his megawatt smile for the sun reflecting off a car window.

He stopped often for pictures with the mortals, including us. We asked him how much work it was to maintain that body, and he said, roughly, “Nah, you got it wrong. It’s not the work; it’s the positivity and health that’s the thing, it’s not work at all.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many smiles in such a short period of time.

If someone were to measure smiles per hour with the same meticulous focus they deploy to calculating floors and ceilings in technical equity analysis, this place would have been off the charts that Sunday afternoon.


It’s not like these people are oblivious–well ok, maybe a little by choice–but by Sunday, everyone knew about coronavirus, the market was already tanking, and I’m sure they all have faced their own personal struggles–like we all do.

They made the choice to smile in the sun. Fear’s primary purpose is to keep you from dying, which, having tried to live that way for a time myself, isn’t a particularly awesome way to live.

I felt lucky to be there in that moment.