Angel’s Flight

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The time you wait subtracts the joy 
Beheads the angels you destroy 
Angels fight, angels cry 
Angels dance and angels die

From: We Could Be So Good Together.  Jim Morrison

 

It is Sunday morning in late December of 1969,  I am riding shotgun in the Blue Lady and it is raining cats and dogs. Jim was at the zenith of his rock-idol period. His celestial sphere sat  directly above at High Noon.

He was also days-drunk but also acting like he was not. He was on automatic pilot stopping only to pass a bottle in a brown bag or to ask me for another cold beer sitting at my feet.  He switched between radio stations playing only driving rock, his own music, and the rest of the top songs of the day.

It would be a year before his Swan Dive in Miami, and as his own eerie lyrics so fatally predicted, this rock rebel, mischievous angel would tumble from the heavens. He would become mortal, never to fly again.

We cruised through downtown Los Angeles which at the time was still a colossal slum. A few years earlier, Bunker Hill sat in ruins peopled by the dregs of society,  once a fabulous district of old victorian mansions was now rapidly dissembling in  gruesome symbiosis. 

The beginnings of new Los Angeles skyline had now replaced a shameful “Bowery slum” with new high rises and a swanky convention center. In the surrounding streets, it was still “those dark satanic mills”.  The appalling living conditions were on par with any third world country.

I asked Jim if we could go see Angels Flight.  We pulled over to the curb and sat at the top of Bunker Hill watching the deluge. He looked at me for what seemed like an eternity.  Then he turned off the radio and said, “What did you say?”

I repeated, Angels Flight.  It’s around here somewhere, right?

I was puzzled that he seemed so surprised. Then he said ,”How could you possibly know about Angels Flight?” Now it was my turn to be surprised. Surely he had seen it in most gangster movies or detective shows in early Los Angeles film noir. It was seen in TV shows — Dragnet, Perry Mason, and movies like Kiss Me Deadly, and even very silly movies such as The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.

He listened intently as I rattled off the names of the very same films and TV series he also cherished as  much as any historian. We talked back and forth about gangsters,villains, and heroes, movies about cowboy legends, war heroes,  bad guys, and naughty  girls. 

“So where is Angels Flight?” I asked again.

We headed downtown where the rain was now hitting the streets like rapid gunfire with swift flowing gutters. Touch Me was blasting on the radio. The torrential gatling-gun-rain was louder.

We sat looking at Angels Flight or I should say, the site where it once rested. Jim looked over at me and said “Tt’s gone. They tore it down this summer.” We sat in silence, or to sharpen the point, “in rapt funeral amazement” .

We were both startled by the the absolute polar opposite mood we were dragged into. Scarborough Fair was playing in all its far too pleasant, feel good lyrics, “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”. We both contemplated visceral suicide. Jim changed the station, and soon we were released from the dreadful happiness and back to Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride’. We drove off singing at the top of our lungs in a desperate attempt to shake off the sickeningly sweet lyrics “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

Two years later Jim would be dead, but this memories are as vivid as they were on that day. Whenever I visit Los Angeles if I do not visit the new site it matters not for just being in proximity is as good as being there and those indelible remembrances prevail.

Twenty-seven years later in 1969, the funicular railway was  lovingly restored, then reopened to my delight. Just to see it running again is to take a trip back in time to the sweet never-to-be-seen-again era of silver and celluloid.

 

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