Brian L. Gray: Good times at Kroll’s Diner
I have a terrible work ethic.
Well, I should clarify – it’s a great ethic for the company I work for, but a bad one for me. I normally go through the entire day without taking a lunch break.
It’s a habit I picked up while working in radio, where I used to work entire days, often 13-hour shifts, with no official break. Since I had to be in the studio the entire shift, I was only able to step away for brief moments in between weather or news announcements, commercials or playing songs.
Before my radio shifts began I usually stuffed what snacks I could into my backpack, and the nature of the business got me acclimated to eating as I worked. And this is why my work ethic benefits my company – I remain focused to the tasks at hand, free of breaks, which in turn boosts productivity, and ultimately should help me to get a healthy pay raise.
But the other week, after a particularly stressful day that came after another stressful day, I decided to do something I never did – go out to eat. I had just finished putting the paper together, which is always a moment of respite for me. I was starving, and needed to get away from the office for a while. Besides, I’d forgotten to stuff my backpack with snack food.
I decided to drive over to Kroll’s Diner to eat, and sat down to work on some notes for a few news stories I was working on.
I looked around the restaurant, and thought back to the days that Kroll’s had a jukebox. In high school a friend of mine, Ryan Zander, and I frequented Kroll’s, and always made sure we had a pocket full of quarters before we headed in, the way I do now before doing laundry, so we could listen to music as we ate. We had one seminal song that always kicked off our musical marathons on that jukebox – Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.”
Zander and I were in a band together, which is a term I use loosely. We weren’t that musically skilled – our two-man acoustic group started when we both decided to start one before we even knew how to play guitars. It worked, though, since we were both on the same level of ineptitude.
We made Kroll’s a usual hangout. After practices or shows we often ate there, and if we ever panhandled on the streets, we used the spare change we were given to buy coffee and knoephla soup.
Just by looking around, I could recall moments here at Kroll’s. Even as I took off my glasses and set them on the table to work, I looked at them and remembered when I was in a booth one time, trying to catch pickles my friend was throwing to me from the other side of the booth. One throw went bad, and I struggled to follow its trajectory, and was somehow able to catch it – sort of. The pickle landed on my glasses, where it stuck there like a suction cup.
There were other times I often ate there with my parents after church, and many other times our pastor’s son, Jim, and I skipped church or choir practice and instead ate there.
I then harkened back to the many times my classmates and I spent at Kroll’s, often after performing in plays, concerts or speech tournaments. We used to take over half the diner for several hours to celebrate, having long conversations and moving from booth to booth to randomly talk with each other about God knows what – life, the future, loves, etc.
Many of the conversations I had, the jokes and hopes that were passed around, came back as I thought about the innumerous times I’d come to Kroll’s. One conversation that still strongly resonates with me came to mind – my bandmate Ryan mentioned something to me, something he thought was a character trait of mine that he respected, which I still hold to be one of the most important facets of myself as an individual: he said that the most respectable thing about me was that I was a very talented person, but I never let it get to my head.
It was probably the best compliment and lesson I’d ever simultaneously received in my life. His comment was something I hadn’t fully realized about myself at the time, but once he put it out there it began to illuminate one of the best nuggets of wisdom I’d ever received in life. Humility.
All this and more rushed back to me while sitting in that booth at Kroll’s, and before I knew it I had stopped working on my news stories and began making notes for this column.
I quit writing at one point and thought to myself, if all those memories arose while sitting in one spot in one restaurant, how many memories did I have in every spot of every building in this town? I realized that Kroll’s was just a microcosm for all the times I could recall while looking around Mandan.
I got back from my lunch break and returned strangely invigorated and ready for work. I didn’t expect that feeling, but it hit me pretty hard. “So this was what a normal workday was like,” I thought to myself, while adding that I should do this more often.
Every location I see in Mandan is like an autobiography, filled with moments and memories I’ve had throughout the years. And I realized a while later that it isn’t the location that is important – it’s what happened there that matters.
Each specific place in this town provides a foundation for what is truly important – moments with friends and family.
And that, my friends, is why I love Mandan.