Photos by Brevin Blach
Not counting a handful of taxis waiting for the next commuter train to drop its fare booty, Union Station seems pretty quiet for a Friday afternoon.
As the 5:55 p.m. Amtrak Surfliner idles on the other side of the tracks, Ben is waiting in the lobby with two tickets to "The Big O" ( Oceanside ), the northernmost tip of this evening's blind date.
Before Nicole arrives to meet Ben for the first time, let's review their pre-date interviews. (It's 5:39; please read fast.)
PacificSD: Where are you from?
BEN: I grew up in New York and Rhode Island. Now I live downtown, in the Gaslamp.
NICOLE: Originally from Napa. I live in Crown Point now.
What do you do for a living?
BEN: I was a professional surf photographer and traveled internationally, but now I do marketing for Night Access, an events production company that throws parties in San Diego and Las Vegas. Oh, and I go to law school.
NICOLE: Research at a biofuels company.
What do you do for fun?
BEN: I love yoga, swimming in the ocean and reading a good book in a cafe. Cosmic Banditos by Allen Weisbecker basically changed the course of my life and led me to pursue a degree in Philosophy from UCSD. Also just finished Hells Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.
NICOLE: I'm obsessed with live music and yoga, biking around P.B., happy hours, hiking, road trips, cooking, wine tasting-not that I know anything about it-lounging by the beach, anything with friends or the fam. I wish I could travel more.
What makes you a good catch?
BEN: Tall, dark and handsome. I love spontaneous travel and I'm studying to be an attorney. That sounds like a pretty good package.
NICOLE: Free room and board in Napa.
What are you looking for in a date, physically and/or otherwise?
BEN: Great conversation and girls who can laugh at themselves. I've dated a lot of hot girls, but I'd rather skip the bullsh!t games and discuss stimulating topics. Physically, there's qualities about every girl that are attractive, but it's always light eyes that get me.
NICOLE: I look for a guy who is down to earth and honest, confident not cocky, someone who has a passion for knowledge and life, and the obvious one, someone who makes me laugh. Looks-wise, I'm a total sucker for muscles.
What's your biggest fear?
BEN: Drowning; I've come close twice, and one of my close friends drowned from surfing in big waves.
NICOLE: Bad drivers and politicians.
PacificSD: What's your sign, religion or spiritual belief system, if any?
BEN: Gemini. I've been told I have two distinct sides: schmoozing/fun/party guy and introspective/spiritual/serious guy. Most people only see the former.
NICOLE: I'm a Virgo. I believe in introspection with the goal of compassion.
What's the sexiest thing about you?
BEN: My facial hair; girls love scruff.
NICOLE: My eyes.
What's your favorite thing about yourself?
BEN: I'm never bored or lonely. Growing up as an only child, you could give me two sticks and a rock and leave me in the backyard for hours.
NICOLE: I can only pick one?
How and why did your last relationship end?
BEN: I thought she cheated on me. Always trust your gut.
NICOLE: He couldn't live up to his promises.
Fill in the blanks: I want my date to be "blank" and "blank."
BEN: Educated and sarcastic.
NICOLE: Open-minded and a good conversationalist.
If my date were a means of transportation, I'd want her/him to move "blank" and be equipped with "blank" and "blank."
BEN: In low gear and be equipped with snow tires and heated seats.
NICOLE: Me and be equipped with wings and a jet engine, so I can travel wherever I want.
What was your first car and what did it say about you?
BEN: Honda Accord. It said I was broke and flipped burgers every summer.
NICOLE: It was an old Honda and showed that my parents were wonderful people for giving me a car that would be totaled within a year. It wasn't my fault!
What's your current car?
BEN: Honda CRV. I like dependable people in life, who will always be there when I need them.
NICOLE: Mazda , zoom-zoom. I just wanna go fast.
BEN: '91 Cadillac Brougham d' Elegance in triple black. That says I'd like to pose as a retired Colombian drug dealer living in a suburb outside of Miami.
NICOLE: Remember the plane thing? That. I want to go on adventures all the time.
When Nicole arrives, she and Ben talk for a few minutes before someone hollers the proverbial "All aboard!" from across the tracks.
(Editor's note: I was the one hollering; the conductor didn't say boo.)
Smiling wide, the couple crosses the platform, steps onto the train and heads upstairs to find their seats. Destination: Harney Sushi, Oceanside.
Turns out they're working on the tracks at the Old Town station, so we're headed straight to Sorrento Valley (with beers in the Team PacificSD backpack, which is permitted...supposedly).
Sushi by the seashore
Passing the natural scenery along the tracks makes riding the Surfliner feel like taking a trip through a forest with an ocean view. Nicole snagged the window seat, but she's been turned toward the aisle, talking to Ben during most of the 55-minute voyage north. As the train pulls into the station at O'side, the couple disembarks and walk, hand-in-hand, a few blocks over to Harney.
The place is packed, from the sushi bar to the bar bar, when Ben and Nicole arrive and are led to a booth next to the DJ. Once they've had a chance to sip some sake and share some sashimi, they're split for mid-date debriefings.
PacificSD: How's it going so far?
BEN: It's going great. We have a lot of mutual friends. It's weird we never met before. We went to the same school, we hang out in the same places, I kind of tripped out about it.
NICOLE: Good, really good. We have a lot of friends in common, so it's a lot of common ground, good things to talk about. We both went to UCSD, so I knew his roommates and stuff.
What were your first impressions?
BEN: I thought she was really good-looking. I was worried that she was going to be an idiot, and she wasn't at all. She's very well versed, has a bio background from the same school as me, so she's very intelligent.
NICOLE: He seems really cool. He really reminds me of one of my good friends, so it felt really comfortable. And he's really easy to talk to and he's a super gentleman.
How was the train ride?
BEN: It was nice. We were kind of faced in the opposite direction, so it was weird going backwards in time. The conductor said, "Where'd you get those beers? We don't sell them here." I go, "Oh, it's contraband, we smuggled it in." He thought it was funny and just let us have them.
NICOLE: We almost got in trouble for our beers, but it was great. It wasn't uncomfortable, which is something I really appreciated, 'cause I was a little nervous that the conversation wouldn't be very fluid. He had the better view because I was at the window and he was looking out, but it was full attention on him the whole time.
Rate your date on a scale from one to 10 for looks.
NICOLE: I'd give him a nine.
And for personality?
NICOLE: Nine for sure.
Does your date want to kiss you?
BEN: Ummm, it seems like the vibe...I would say yes.
NICOLE: Yeah, probably.
If you had to choose between leaving right now with $100 cash or staying and making-out with your date right, what would you do?
BEN: Stay and make out with her.
NICOLE: I'd stay.
What would make this date more fun?
BEN: Ice cream. Maybe a walk on the beach after. When we walk on the beach, I wanna make out with her.
NICOLE: There's like a DJ, right? If there was a dance floor...
301 Mission Ave., Oceanside
The blind date goes south (not in a bad way)
After sushi, Nicole and Ben stroll toward the ocean.
At the entrance to Oceanside Pier, an apparent religious zealot is expressing his passion at full volume as a group of breakdancers performs to a crowd of skate-board-toting teenagers on the level below.
The daters soak in the scene for a few minutes and then soak up a quick round of drinks and tequila shots at 333 Pacific before walking back to the Amtrak station. When their train arrives, they climb aboard, and Nicole is nearly caught in the closing door as the two disappear, laughing, into the cabin.
The magazine crew catches a ride home with our designated driver. We call the next morning to see what we missed.
PacificSD: How was dinner?
BEN: Harney was amazing. The DJ was playing electronic music, which she loves, and it kept the mood relaxed. The food was exquisite. Their sushi chefs have presentation down to a fine art.
NICOLE: So incredible. The DJ kept the vibe upbeat, but the lighting was romantic. Our waitress was awesome, and the sushi was to die for.
Describe the experience after dinner.
BEN: We got barraged by screaming bible thumpers and watched inner-city youths breakdance from the pier. (Former Chargers linebacker) Junior Seau was at the second bar we went to.
NICOLE: We took a walk along the pier and got a drink at 333 Pacific. We saw Junior Seau, but he wouldn't take a picture with us.
How was the ride south?
BEN: The conductor gave us free bottles of cheap wine, and Nicole kept checking her phone because she was supposed to meet up with friends later. That's one of my pet peeves. I told her I didn't like it, but she kept texting people. I mixed a juice box of apple juice with white wine-my foray into prison mixology.
NICOLE: We discovered mixing apple juice with the free white wine made it taste a lot better.
What was the best part of the date?
BEN: Probably the train ride back downtown. She wasn't self-conscious about doing something stupid on camera and could open up a bit more. Plus, it was nice to have a cuddle buddy on the way home.
NICOLE: Probably the train ride up. I think it was part relief that the most awkward part was over, and part really enjoying getting to know each other, finding out we had so many friends in common and wondering how we had never met.
What did you after the train ride?
BEN: We took a cab. I showed her where I live downtown and walked her a couple blocks over to a club. She had to meet up with her friends, so I made sure the VIP hosts took care of her. Then I went and met up with some friends at Stingaree to see Mickey Avalon.
NICOLE: Got a drink and parted ways.
Was there a kiss?
BEN: A gentleman never kisses and tells.
NICOLE: Apparently there's something romantic about train rides.
Will there be a second date?
BEN: I hope so. Usually, I want to stab myself in the ears on firstdates, but she was intelligent, and we had a lot of similar life experiences.
NICOLE: I could be pretty easily convinced.
If my date were a car, he/she would be a "blank," because he/she is "blank" and "blank."
BEN: Mazda, because she is
NICOLE: Mercedes, because he is alluring, desirable and classy.
While a dating train wreck might have been more exciting to watch, last night's intracountynental blind date-from Nicole's sexy eyes and Ben's dashing scruff to the fleeting scenery along the tracks-was a sight to behold. Before the date, Nicole said she drives a "Mazda, zoom-zoom. I just wanna go fast." And by the end of the evening, Ben seems to have caught that need for speed.
The moral of the story:
Texting while driving is dangerous. Texting while riding the train? Now that's just plain annoying...but thankfully not so annoying as to prevent someone from becoming a "cuddle buddy."