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The Human Computer And The Cat Chauffeur
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The Human Computer And The Cat Chauffeur

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

We've heard a lot about Wall Street lately. Now, we're going to take a minute for stories from a different part of New York City's economy. They come from StoryCorps, where everyday people are interviewing one another. Andrew Vollo is a New York City cab driver who has made it his mission to interview as many other cabbies as he can. Last Friday, we heard one of those conversations. Today, more voices from behind the wheel. Here's Mr. Vollo interviewing fellow cab drivers Oleg Roitman and Jerry Tierstein.

Mr. OLEG ROITMAN (Cab Driver, New York City): My name is Oleg Roitman. My nickname is the Human Computer. If you tell me in Russian, Hebrew or English any date - for example, the date of your birth - in less than a second, I will tell you on which day of the week you were born, Monday, Tuesday, et cetera. To prove that my answers are correct, I always carry a book with calendars from 1900 to 2020. For example, two persons, male and female, got in my cab. They asked to me to take them to Penn Station. I begin to drive. The guy, he said, I was born on April 14, 1973. I said Saturday. He said, oh, yes, yes, yes, correct. He paid me double the meter.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JERRY TIERSTEIN (Cab Driver, New York City): A lady puts a cat in my cab, and it was rush hour. Then it's, oh, I forgot my portfolio, I've got to go up and get it, so just drive the cat around for a block or so, and come around. Well, she slammed the door, and she left. Now I'm sitting here with a cat in the back seat. So, I said, OK, freak it, I'll drive it around the block. What am I going to do? So, as I reached the first corner, there's a light. Somebody is running over the cab. I said, whoa, whoa, whoa, you can't get in, I've got somebody. I don't see anybody in there. So, he opens the door and he goes, oh, and he jumps back and goes, why didn't you tell me you got a cat in there? And I said, I said I've got somebody, and you know, it ain't a human, so I don't know what to say.

Then I go to the next corner. A lady is ready to jump in. She opens the door and screams and jumps back. Finally, thank God, I've pulled up in front of the building, and the lady runs down. I said, lady, you don't know, people are jumping in the car, you're killing me here, you know? They think there's no one in here, but I got a stupid cat on the backseat. Don't call my cat stupid, you know, OK, OK.

What would you do differently if you had to do your life over again? And I don't think I could have done any better than the cab driver. One thing that I was remembering, if you going to do something, whatever it is in life, I don't care if you're mopping floors, do it well. So, if I was mopping floors, I'd be the best damn mopper you'd ever see. That floor would shine. You can eat off it. And being that I'm a cab driver, I want to be the best in the business, and I think I am one of the best in the business, because I really do the job the way it should be the done, the old-fashioned way.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: New York City cab drivers speaking with their fellow cabbie Andrew Vollo at StoryCorps. We heard from Jerry Tierstein and Oleg Roitman, the Human Computer.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TIERSTEIN: July 2, 1961.

Mr. ROITMAN: Sunday.

Mr. TIERSTEIN: August 5, 1929.

Mr. ROITMAN: Monday.

Mr. TIERSTEIN: September 13, 1952.

Mr. ROITMAN: That's Saturday.

Mr. ROITMAN: How about July...

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: That interview will be archived, with all StoryCorps interviews, at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. The podcast is at npr.org.

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