On the Road: San Diego
Aug 30, 2015, 9:35 PM | Updated: Sep 28, 2015, 3:06 pm
SAN DIEGO – There are two things that make a surfer willing to wait in line:
2. Breakfast burritos, especially those whose size rivals a loaf of bread.
It was the convergence of those two facts that had the line at Kono’s Surf Café stretching outside the door and halfway down the block, adding to the traffic of a beachfront path already congested with guys carrying surfboards, girls in bikinis rollerblading, and one fellow on a beach-cruiser bicycle wearing a plush, pink bunny head.
In other words, just another Sunday morning on Pacific Beach in San Diego, one of the best surf spots in one of the best beach towns in America. Kono’s is the spot that embodies it best with its different breakfast burritos numbered conveniently one through four, its cash-only, counter service and its three different patios.
It’s about as pure a California beach experience as you can get, and that’s coming from someone who’s been lucky enough to spend more time at beaches than someone who was born in Klamath Falls, Ore. could ever expect. My pops grew up near Los Angeles, spent a couple of years in Santa Barbara, and knew his way around a wave as a body surfer. I went to high school in Santa Cruz County – firmly NorCal in the tribal affiliations of surfers – and there wasn’t much doubt about how long it would take me to taste the salty tang of the Pacific Ocean once I landed in San Diego.
Pacific Beach was my first stop after arriving on Alaska Airlines, hitting The World Famous for a Saturday brunch. You know a place is great when it doesn’t even have to tell you what it’s world famous for, which in this case is an oceanfront perch and a menu steeped in Baja flavors like roasted peppers, melted cheese, and warm tortillas.
It’s surfeteria fare and if that’s not the name of an actual type of American cuisine, well, it should be. I ordered a couple eggs over easy on top of smoked carnitas over a layer of chilaquiles, which are tortillas roasted with peppers for an appropriately spicy foundation to the meal.
I came almost fully prepared, wearing boardshorts so I could dunk my head afterward. What I neglected was a beach towel, and after a few minutes in the waves, I proceeded to drip-dry on my walk back to the car.
And it was on my drive to the hotel, the saltwater from my shorts seeping into the driver’s seat of the rental car – sorry, Hertz – I thought back to the fact that San Diego is the city where I decided, for sure, that I wanted to be a sports reporter.
Now, I had dreamed of doing it as far back as junior high and I had written about sports first at The Daily, the University of Washington’s student paper. As a senior in college, I worked part-time at The Seattle Times, answering phones in the office, taking down high-school scores and being assigned the occasional story.
In fact, it was there that my byline was changed from Dan to Danny. Up until then, I had gone with the shorter version dating back to high school, believing it sounded more adult. As someone who measured 4 feet, 11.5 inches at the end of my ninth-grade year, I needed every advantage I could get. But the editor put “By Danny O’Neil” atop the first story I had printed in The Seattle Times and that was that.
After graduating from college, I took an internship at ESPN.com’s West Coast office, which became a full-time job in the Bristol, Conn. headquarters where I got to attend SportsCenter planning meetings that included guys like Dan Patrick, Rick Eisen and Kenny Mayne. I edited stories submitted by Tim Kurkjian, wrote headlines and learned my way around the incredible video library.
What I wasn’t doing, though, was writing. Not from games anyway. I got occasional assignments like covering the AFC Championship Game between Denver and Pittsburgh in January 1998, but the majority of my time was spent in the basement of Building 3 in Bristol.
In the summer of 1998, I was chosen to be part of ESPN.com’s coverage of the X Games, covering what was then considered the lunatic fringe of the sports world. Downhill rollerbladers, competitive skydrivers and BMX riders who competed on everything from dirt tracks to half pipes. I interviewed a street luger named Evan Sult, who was puzzled when I used his first name.
“Dude, my name’s Rat,” he said.
I loved it. Not the sports, per se. I thought they were goofy in general and more akin to activities that bored kids in small towns take up to help pass the time. What I loved was the convergence of all these people in a seaside town and getting a chance to observe and describe them. I felt like an anthropologist, and San Diego was the perfect setting with its laid-back beach vibe and acceptance of anything that floats your type of boat.
I decided that week that I wasn’t going to be content covering sports from an office. I wanted to be hip-deep out where it was happening, and this weekend, that was San Diego, where Seattle won its first preseason game.
San Diego has so much to offer from Sea World to the Navy ships that are docked there, to the Taylor Swift concert that was held on Saturday night at the Padres’ stadium.
But for me, SoCal is about a long stretch of beach, sun so hot that you sweat without having to move, and where a dip in the ocean is better than air-conditioning.
Oh, and a breakfast burrito, too. One as big as your head and worth waiting in line for.