Rock Climber Ashima Shiraishi Plays 'Not My Job' On 'Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!' Shiraishi is a pro at climbing sheer rock faces, so we've invited her to play a game called "Let's take the easy way up."
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Not My Job: We Quiz Rock Climber Ashima Shiraishi On Escalators

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Not My Job: We Quiz Rock Climber Ashima Shiraishi On Escalators

Not My Job: We Quiz Rock Climber Ashima Shiraishi On Escalators

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


And now the game where we ask somebody special to do something mundane - it's called Not My Job. Ashima Shiraishi is a giant in the sport of rock climbing. She's won multiple championships, set many records and done it all before the age of 20. Outside Magazine described her as a young crusher, and the New Yorker called her a Gretzky of the granite, which is such a New Yorker thing to say. Ashima Shiraishi, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


SAGAL: Now, we've talked to a lot of people about where they're quarantining. Where - you're a professional rock climber who has to be training all the time. Where are you quarantining? Where are you holed up?

SHIRAISHI: I'm currently in Park City, Utah. And luckily, where I am, we have this indoor climbing wall at the garage. So it's been really convenient.

SAGAL: So one of the great things that I found out about you is you often hear about professional climbers, like yourself, who grew up in the mountains - you know, in, say, Park City, a place like that. You grew up in New York City. And you started climbing in Central Park?

SHIRAISHI: Yes, I did. When I was 6 years old, actually, I began climbing in - at Rat Rock just in the heart of the city in Central Park. And there was a playground next to Rat Rock. And eventually, I just saw these people climbing, and I was just really intrigued by what they were doing. And you know what? Like, playing at that playground transitioned into this passion that I have now for rock climbing. And...

SAGAL: And so what happened? Your parents took you to the playground, and they looked over one day, and you were halfway up the rock face?

SHIRAISHI: Yeah, that's kind of basically what happened. Like, my parents weren't even aware that I was rock climbing. They just thought (inaudible) on the monkey bars.

SAGAL: And the next thing - and how loudly did they scream in terror when they saw you doing that?

SHIRAISHI: Honestly, I think my dad was fine with me rock climbing. My mom was terrified. Like, she didn't want me climbing hundreds of feet up.

SAGAL: Wow. Let me ask you a question. You found yourself very early on your life's path, which is great. But do you think anything might have happened to turn you away from that life's path? - because one of our producers, Peter Gwinn, would really like his kids to stop climbing on the sofa.

SHIRAISHI: I don't think so (laughter).

SAGAL: Would you just lie and say right now, climbing is terrible, kids, don't do it; I wish I had picked up something better, like accounting?

SHIRAISHI: Oh, man. I can't say that.


SAGAL: Do you find your skill is ever useful - I mean, to be able to climb almost anything like a mountain goat?

SHIRAISHI: Yeah. Honestly, my cabinets at my house - they're pretty high up. So sometimes I, like, climb the table, the kitchen table.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SHIRAISHI: My parents always yell at me. But I have to, like, climb on top of those to get some dishes.

SAGAL: Now, are you belayed, or is that a free climb to the top of the table?

SHIRAISHI: Oh, that's totally free climbing. If I fall, I fall in the sink.

NEGIN FARSAD: (Laughter).

SAGAL: Oh, my God - just the terror of that. You fall, right? You train a lot. You climb a lot. You must on occasion fall. Do you have, like, a technique for that? Do you have a plan for what you're going to do when you fall? Because my plan for - if I were to fall from a great height is to scream as loudly as I can until I die. So what would be your plan?

SHIRAISHI: I don't think about it very much. There's no plan to fall, but you're always ready to fall because most of climbing is falling.

SAGAL: Yeah.

JOSH GONDELMAN: I've always said that.

SAGAL: I could do that part. If most of climbing - I don't think you're right because if most of climbing were to be falling, I would be a champion.

SHIRAISHI: (Laughter) I mean, it's the whole process. You know? A small percentage of that is when you succeed and you get to the top, yeah.

SAGAL: So you fall most of the time. But every now and then, you get to the top.

SHIRAISHI: Exactly, exactly. Be aware that anything can happen. And potentially, there's a fall coming. Just be ready for it so you don't panic.

SAGAL: That's like a good advice for life, I think.

GONDELMAN: If your mom is ever nervous about a climb you're doing, do you ever tell her, like, I'm not climbing this rock, I'm just holding it for a friend?


SAGAL: Let's hope you don't do it halfway up it.


SAGAL: Well, Ashima Shiraishi, we have invited you here this time to play a game that we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: Let's Take the Easy Way Up.

SAGAL: You climb up sheer rock faces for fun. But you know what might be a better way? Taking the escalator. We're going to ask you three questions about escalators. Get two right, and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they might like on their voicemail. Bill, who is Ashima playing for?

KURTIS: Sarah Herman (ph) of Los Angeles, Calif.

SAGAL: All right. I just want to ask because I've watched you climb things which are very difficult. Is there something you say to yourself before you go? Do you say - OK, Ashima, I can do this, I've done this before or just another rock face? Or do you say, just take it hold by hold?

SHIRAISHI: Yeah. I guess my mantra that I use coming from my dad is to have, like, a quiet but strong soul. It's translated from Japanese. It's hard to directly translate it, but it goes along those lines.

SAGAL: Right - have a quiet but strong soul.

GONDELMAN: I've been going loud and weak. Is that wrong of me?


SAGAL: I knew. I had it so close, but I just messed up some of the terms.

GONDELMAN: Yeah, I knew it was a volume and an amount to strength, but I wasn't sure how to calibrate it.


SAGAL: All right, Ashima, here's your first question. The first working escalator in the United States was introduced in 1896 in New York City. Where was it installed - A, on the outside of the Statue of Liberty, bringing tourists right up to her waist; B, at the deep end of a community swimming pool to speed up the high dive line; or C, at Coney Island Amusement Park as a thrill ride?

SHIRAISHI: I have no idea. I have not studied escalators.


SAGAL: Well, maybe if you hadn't spent so much time climbing up all those rocks, you might have gotten some reading done about escalators.

SHIRAISHI: Could I get a hint?

SAGAL: Maybe put yourself in the minds of, like, the people who have now invented or acquired, somehow, the first escalator. What are you going to do with it, this escalator, this amazing thing that no one's ever seen before?

GONDELMAN: In New York City, I think it was actually immediately out of order in a subway station.


SHIRAISHI: OK, all right. Maybe C.

SAGAL: That's right, Ashima.


SAGAL: That's what they did. Like, say, lads, shall we go on this roller coaster or that crazy moving stairway? Where's your two bits? Now, the first escalator in the United Kingdom, though, was installed at Harrods department store, a very famous place, in 1898. But people were afraid to ride it at first, so Harrods provided what to help them along - A, an attendant with cognac and smelling salts at the top to revive terrified riders; B, an attendant at the bottom who'd say, so governor, too frightened to ride the wonder stairs, ay? Or C, straps to tie the shoes down to the steps so people couldn't freak out and jump off?

SHIRAISHI: Oh my, gosh. Maybe C?

SAGAL: You're going for C, strapping to tie them down? No, I'm afraid that's not right. It was the cognac at the top. We imagine people who really wanted a free drink...

JESSI KLEIN: I was really hoping that was the answer.

SAGAL: I wish they still had that. All right. This is not a problem.


SAGAL: As you say, most of climbing is falling. You get back up. You go. So one more chance. Here we go. Last question - like everything else, escalators have a fan base of excited enthusiasts. So if you stan escalators, you can enjoy which of these - A, the "People Movers Podcast," which for three seasons and counting has been, quote, "highlighting the impact of escalators on everyday life"; B, the International Escalator Derby in which people race on an escalator at a Vienna, Va., shopping mall; or C, EscaCon, the convention for escalator fans who often come dressed as their favorite escalators?



GONDELMAN: She's right.

SHIRAISHI: I mean, the last one seems pretty extreme, but I might have to go with that one.

SAGAL: How would you dress as your favorite escalator? Like, I'm dressed as this escalator, but you're dressed as that escalator. How could you tell them apart?

GONDELMAN: Someone's not a connoisseur.

SAGAL: (Laughter).

KLEIN: (Laughter) Guys, I don't want to freak you out. But right now, I am dressed as my favorite escalator. I feel like that's my whole pandemic vibe is I look like an escalator.


SHIRAISHI: I think the race sounds pretty fun, so the race.

SAGAL: So if I understand correctly, you're choosing the one in which people stand on an escalator, go up the escalator...

SHIRAISHI: Oh, wait. They don't run up?

SAGAL: No, no. They just stand on it.

GONDELMAN: (Laughter).

SHIRAISHI: Oh, I thought you were saying they were going to race against each other.

SAGAL: No, it's not a stair-running contest; it's an escalator race.

SHIRAISHI: Oh, so it compares other escalators from each other.

SAGAL: No, it just - they just get in the same escalator, and they see who gets up it the fastest.

SHIRAISHI: Oh, that's weird. I thought they were running and chasing each other on the escalators.

SAGAL: That would be more fun.

SHIRAISHI: Yeah, that sounds great. I mean, I guess you bottled it down to maybe the first one, A.

SAGAL: Yes, it's the podcast about escalators.


SAGAL: It is. And I have been instructed to tell you that it is, in fact, the very finest podcast about escalators there is, so accept no substitutes.


SAGAL: You want to go to Bill, how did Ashima do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Two out of 3 - that means she won, proving our motto, climb every mountain.

SAGAL: There you go, including this one. That's great. Congratulations. Ashima Shiraishi is one of the top mountain climbers in the world. Her new book, "How To Solve A Problem," is available now wherever you might find your book. Ashima, thank you so much for joining us. And good luck in all the amazing things you have yet to do.

SHIRAISHI: Thank you so much for having me.

SAGAL: Thank you. Take care, Ashima. It's great to talk to you.



SAGAL: Bye-bye.


JACKIE WILSON: (Singing) Your love, lifting me higher than I've ever been lifted before. So keep it up. Quench my desire, and I'll be at your side forever more. You know your love...

SAGAL: In just a minute, we're tickled pink in our Listener Limerick Challenge game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.

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