Feb 10, 2020

One of my favourite stories.

written by Will Staynes
in category Stories

If you’re a fan of podcasts, there was probably one particular series that got you hooked.

That might have been the first series of Serial; My Dad Wrote A Porno; or perhaps The Adam Buxton Podcast.

For me, I fell in love with the constantly evocative podcast, Love + Radio – a show which features some of the most brilliantly bizarre outsiders you can imagine. From Davecat, the Idollator; to Tom Justice, a cyclist, one-time US Olympic Team hopeful, and former bank robber.

Love + Radio got me hooked on podcasts. But there’s an episode from another series that has had a greater effect on me and my approach to storytelling.

First published in 2000 by the long-running podcast, This American Life, it’s an episode called ‘24 Hours at the Golden Diner’.

It’s premise: what would happen if a bunch of journalists spent 24 hours in a Chicago diner, recording conversations with staff and customers? **

The result is an episode that I’d describe as an ode to the pleasant banality of everyday life, and what it’s like to be human. A feat that neatly exemplifies what one colleague flippantly said to me years ago – that “everyone has a story to tell if you just give them the chance to tell it.”

From beginning to end, the episode presents an accurate insight into the variety of feels and experiences that come with being in a 24-hour diner. With the stories and personalities of its staff and patrons firmly at its heart.

We’re introduced to the three committed but disgruntled managers who run the diner. We meet a man who’s described as having the look of someone ‘that needs six more hours of sleep’.

And eventually we meet Donna – the waitress.

The reporter says that she’s one of the most beautiful people she’s ever seen. She’s described as compassionate and generous. We’re told that Donna brings in cookies for the homeless, the old men and the taxi drivers. Donna explains that she’s not a night person, but she’s been working the night shift for 26 years. She says that this allows her to see her children during the day. After so many years of working at the diner, she describes the Golden Apple as being her home.

Later on, we get the chance to listen in on two friends who used to be a couple. They broke up three years ago but continue to argue about it. Their story is actually very touching to hear.

We also hear from older customers that come to the diner because they’re lonely. Two police officers talk about the monotony of being on patrol. And the whole time, the dessert box refuses to rotate as it should. This means that the desserts aren’t selling.

None of this is spectacular. But that’s not to say that it’s forgettable either.

In some of my previous work experiences, there’s been a perception that only the flashiest individuals will suffice when it comes to gathering case studies and stories; that only the most heroic people can showcase the work of their affiliated organisation. Especially when it comes to press, fundraising or digital content.

But I firmly believe that great storytelling and engaging case studies can be world-building and awe-inspiring in other ways too.

For me, stories can also be great simply because they resonate with our own experiences of day-to-day life – by reflecting the same miscellaneous anxieties and triumphs we all go through. Thereby providing us with tangible examples as to why we should stay optimistic about life.

Indeed, we all have our own dessert cases that refuse to turn. But we all have a Donna in our lives too, to help out when things get a little bit shit.

Sometimes, a good story just needs to remind us of all that.

And as ‘24 hours at the Golden Apple’ highlights, speak to anyone for long enough, and great stories will always turn up eventually.

**One day, I’d love to replicate this in another setting. To those reading this, get in touch if you fancy working together on something similar.