My first ride on the shortest railway in the world, also known as Angel’s Flight, was certainly memorable for that reason alone, but made even moreso because of who I happened to share the tiny trip with. Back then, long before the city got the level of bike culture it has today, I was prone to getting on my bike and going places just for the hell of it. And in this case on the morning of Saturday, March 24, 1996, I set out from where I was living in Encino and pedaled across the valley to the L.A. River downstream first for a double-dipped helping of lamb sammich goodnesh at Philippe’s, followed by a casual cruise to explore other places such as Union Station, Olvera Street, Pershing Square, Central Library, as well as the famed funicular that had only been rededicated about a month earlier that year.
Eventually I found myself atop Bunker Hill, doing my best to avoid and placate the bike-bothered security guards first at the Music Center and then at California Plaza where I locked up and paid the 25-cent fair for the downhill trip on the funicular that would connect me to a meander through Grand Central Market.
Upon boarding I found myself standing behind a gentleman in a blindingly white leather blazer, and it didn’t take long to recognize him to be actor Nicolas Cage. Having been in the same high school drama class until he dropped out to go make “Valley Girl” and get his career launched, I toyed with the idea of asking if he remembered me and what brought him downtown, but instead I kept my yap snapped because I already knew the answer to the first question, and the the answer to the second dawned on me. He was probably on lunch between rehearsals for a little show called the 68th Academy Awards airing the next day from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, during which he would end up being presented with the best actor Oscar for “Leaving Las Vegas.”
As we disembarked onto to Hill Street, instead of making a fool of myself, I called out “Good luck tomorrow, Mr. Cage.”
“Huh? Oh. Thanks!” he said and we went our ways.
Coincidentally, he would star in “City of Angels” two years later, which features a scene with him standing on Hill Street with Angel’s Flight behind him, but wearing no angelically white coat.
I rode those short, steep rails several times after that in the six years it operated until the tragic accident in February 2001 that resulted in the death of a passenger and its closure. With the march of years since then my doubt grew whether historic cars Sinai and Olivet would ever roll again, but as of this morning I’m thrilled that full-time operations have resumed (daily hours: 6:45 a.m. – 10 p.m.; one-way fare: 25 cents) and plan to board at my earliest opportunity… I’d hazard this time without Mr. Cage present.