Sea dogs? Gina holds my $2 hot dogs at the sea wall
The three of us stand, jaws on the floor. Cameron, me, Lavonn.
“Trust me,” says Eoghan, “Michaela has never eaten a hot dog in her life. Me neither.”
1404 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, San Diego
We’re standing on a deck beside this li’l ol’ 1960 Shasta travel trailer “snack shack,” parked on the corner of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Point Loma Avenue.
Turns out Michaela and Eoghan (pronounce it “Ian”) are from Northern Ireland.
“Actually,” says Michaela, “we call it ‘the North of Ireland,’ those of us who want a united Ireland.”
Cameron reports that Surf Check has been open for five months
“Well, are you willing to try a dog?” asks Cameron. He’s the barista.
The two look at each other.
“All right, then,” says Eoghan.
“Uh, want mustard, relish, ketchup on that?” says Cameron.
“Sauerkraut? What’s that?”
OMG. None of that in the North of Ireland either? Cameron gives Michaela a sample. She tastes it. “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Lavonn with her $5 Surf Check chai
Gal ahead of me, Lavonn, has ordered a “Surf Check Latte,” caramel chai, with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, steamed milk and whipped cream. Costs $5. She’s from L.A.
“Nothing like this in L.A.,” she says. “We have food trucks, but this trailer is way cooler.”
I like this end of O.B., even though the only time you read about it is when somebody falls off a Sunset Cliff.
“We’ve been here five months,” says Cameron. He says it was a local, Richard Aguirre, who had the idea. Seems Richard made his money selling real estate in the area, then took 20 years off to go surfing, then bought this 1960 Shasta travel trailer, converted it into this coffee shack, and opened up right here, 20 yards from the cliffs. He called it “the Surf Check” because here is where surfers come to check the waves.
A 1967 VW bus comes putt-putting up. Same light blue and white colors as the trailer. Guy hops out. “This is Richard,” says Cameron.
“I paid $1000 for the trailer,” says Richard. “Wanted to make it into a snack shack, like the little trailers they had at stadiums in the 1950s.”
Their hours? Surfer hours.
“We open 30 minutes before sunrise and close 30 minutes after sunset. Every day. Mainly coffee, chai, açai, smoothies, plus a few snacks, toasted-cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs. That’s it,” Richard says.
Oh, yeah. Reminds me: Could do with a nice hot drink right now. “Guess I’ll try your chai,” I say. I point to Lavonn’s drink. “And what do you have to eat?”
“Well, normally we have toasted-cheese sandwiches, but my buddy just left with the last one,” says Cameron. “So I guess we’re down to the hot dogs.”
The good news? The dogs cost only $2 each. Such a deal. I ask for two.
But first, he brings out a cardboard holder with the two hot dogs for Michaela and Eoghan.
“If these are your first-ever dogs,” Cameron says, “then it’s on us. This is a historic moment.”
The hot dogs are squiggle-squirted with ketchup and mustard. (Ketchup? You know these guys ain’t from Chicago.) But also in there is relish and onions.
So, we all make a big deal about Michaela taking her first-ever bite of a hot dog.
She bites, she chews, she swallows.
Michaela eats her first-ever hot dog
“That’s the worst hot dog I ever had,” she says. “And the best hot dog I ever had. Honestly, it was fine.”
My two dogs come next. Along with the steaming chai. “That’s Richard’s invention,” says Cameron. “Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, black tea. It’s our biggest seller.”
“We used to have tables and umbrellas on my deck here,” says Richard. “But the city came and objected.”
Man. What’s the city’s problem?
Maybe it’s that Richard started “Save Sunset Cliffs” to fight to get action on the eroding cliffs around here, but without ruining Sunset Cliffs’ character and surfing traditions.
“What these people won’t recognize,” he says, “is that the erosion happens from the top, not the bottom. Rain drain-off, not the waves below. See Point Loma Avenue? Water races down there and pours over the cliff. We need a proper storm-drain system to capture runoff water before it reaches the cliffs.”
He says the city is doing diddly-squat about it. “But, hey, it’s okay for me: my house is two blocks back. In a couple of years that’s going to be the waterfront. We’ll have waterfront views!”
I can see through the caravan’s back door that the sun’s about to take the plunge into the ocean. I collect my chai and my hot dogs.
“Think I’ll take these two dogs for a walk.”
I head down the end of Point Loma Avenue to the railing. Below, the rocks, the waves, the buffeting wind. The sun’s last horizontal rays make my hot dogs look especially red and delicious. Oh, man. Light ain’t gonna last.
Botticelli’s Venus Rising? Gina saves dogs from rising tides.
Guy and a gal are staring out to sea. They turn to each other. Lock bodies and lips in a pretty passionate embrace. Hate to interrupt. But gotta get a pic, now.
“Uh, excuse me. Need an extra pair of hands here. Could you…?”
The gal, Gina, is the one to break off. “Sure,” she says. And takes the dogs and holds them out to the ocean, like a sacrifice in ancient times. The wind blows her squirrely blonde hair sideways across her face. Suddenly, she looks like the Botticelli painting, Venus Rising from the Sea.
I thank her, and, finally, take a chomp. The relish and the mustard come through. And the chai — not usually my thing — is sweet, interesting. Can pick out the cinnamon and cloves. I dunno. Yes, the dogs are a little cool, but the cliffs, the food, the trailer, the Irish honeymooners, the guys, Venus, they all keep me warm as I chomp my way back to the last Sunday bus out of O.B.
1404 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, San Diego
Hours: 30 minutes before sunrise till 30 minutes after sunset, daily
Prices: Hot dogs, $2; Big Pup (2 dogs and a soda), $5; Little Pup (one dog and a soda), $4; toasted-cheese sandwich, $5; Surf Check chai, $5; drip coffee, $3
Nearest bus stop: Point Loma Avenue at Sunset Cliffs Boulevard (except Sundays, when nearest stop is Cable Street at Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach, ¾ mile north)