[by Mike]

One of the inevitable aspects of studying high energy physics is travel. The size of modern particle accelerators relegates them mostly to national labs, which have an awkward tendency of being located in dreary, depressing locations. My own research is focused on the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Lab, which is located right in the middle of Long Island. That giant circle on the map? That's the atom smasher.

Creature comforts are few and far between at Brookhaven but, given that the majority of one's time is spent working or sleeping, it's rarely a significant issue. The one exception, sadly, is food. Perhaps to be expected, the cafeteria at Brookhaven is terrible. With experience one can find a few options that are somewhat less terrible than the majority, but not enough to last more than a few days. The search for food then takes you off site, to brave the wilds of Long Island.

A fifteen minute drive will take you from the front gate to the first strip malls, but the initial options are mostly limited to pizza and disappointing Chinese food. Driving further reveals row after row of strips malls, but rarely a break from the monotony of choices. The one notable exception is a hole in the wall serving authentic Oaxacan cuisine that I try to visit every time I'm down.

This last week I was down for a collaboration meeting, and after a long day of meetings some fellow grad students and I drove up to Port Jefferson in search of a good meal. Now Port Jefferson is dense enough to a refreshing break from suburbia, and as you reach the city limits the strip malls start to recede and the restaurants start to show increasing promise. Our final destination, however, was out on the water. Chosen with the miracle of technology that is the iPhone, the restaurant featured a seasonal prix fixe menu and everything. I was hoping for the best.

It's funny how the signs are so obvious in hindsight. Our tables were upstairs, past a small dining room that had been rented out for a pharmaceutical presentation. The waiter didn't mention the (many) changes in the menu until after our first attempts ordering the relevant dishes.

In the end, the three dishes of the prix fixe took over two hours to be served. Bland potstickers, horrendously dry and underseasoned pork tenderloin, and a mediocre chocolate lava cake were not worth the price of the meal, let alone the outrageous wait. The sickeningly sweet Sidecar that bided my time didn't help.

Trips like this make if vividly clear how spoiled we are in Boston. The luxurious selection of quality food and drink are have the power to make a grad student think about working less to delay the inevitability of graduating and having to move to another city. If only subconsciously.

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