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Dining Hall Doldrums

Bill Brink | Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I’m usually not prone to rant. When I’m frustrated with something, I try to reason it out, think rationally, take a deep breath before venting out loud. I’ll complain, but I try to avoid rants. There are exceptions. When one of my teams does something I don’t like, I make sure the TV hears about it. And I absolutely cannot tolerate dining hall indecision.

This phenomenon has happened to everyone. On your way across the dining hall towards your next delicious menu item, you run into this guy: standing stock-still smack in the middle of everyone’s way, he’s slowly turning in circles as if in awe at the plethora of food at his disposal. He hasn’t the foggiest idea what his stomach desires. When I get stuck behind this guy, I have to restrain myself from upending his tray so his applesauce splashes in his face.

I’ve developed a fool-proof route through the dining hall that ensures I never miss a special dish. (For the purposes of this column, I’m talking about South; North’s layout is such a disastrous quagmire that navigating it with any kind of expedience is a complete shot in the dark.) I enter on the right. If I see a line by the Chinese food, I know it’s General Tso’s Chicken day and my search is over. If not, I swing around the Chinese and up the stir-fry line, scanning as I go to see what fruits accompany the sliced apples on my left and who’s manning the stir-fry grill on my right. I cut across to the homestyle section, swing left near the grill, and then cut left again towards the pasta, leaning right to make sure I don’t miss any mozzarella sticks or cinnabuns by the pizza. After I’ve passed the Mexican line, I’ve seen everything there is, I’ve made my decisions and I proceed to get my food.

I’m not saying everyone has to follow this pattern, but there needs to be premeditation before entering the dining hall. If your game face isn’t on, everyone around you will know it, and you’ll essentially be reduced to a traffic cone.

I’m not perfect. I’ve done it. I’ve been the guy who was overwhelmed by the choices and gaped at the different options available to me. (I partly blame the convergence of more than one delicious food on the same night. You can’t serve peppered flank steak on the same night as General Tso’s. It’s not fair to ask college-age kids to make that choice.)

The final flaw I see most often is that people don’t keep their head on a swivel. The dining hall is a criss-crossing, zig-zagging trail map of paths to and from different food stations. Everyone needs to imagine they’re running a crossing route – keep your eye on the ball, or the food, but use your peripherals as well.