“Hey mate, love your show,” he said.
Cage asked him where he called home.
“New Zealand” came the response.
“You see that in New Zealand?” the Delaware County resident and star of Discovery’s “Airplane Repo” said.
“Yeah,” the guy answered. “Love the show.”
And, it’s such widespread appeal that led the channel to air a second season of the high stakes game of reposessing luxury aircraft from America’s wealthiest individuals who have become behind on their payments. Cage works with former bounty hunter and MMA fighter Danny Thompson through the Media-based company International Recovery Group, which has collected more than 1,600 airplanes, boats, RVs and a couple helicopters.
For Cage, the recognition can be disconcerting.
“I’m proud of it but I don’t want anybody else talking about it,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to take that the wrong way. I cannot say enough to people who take a second to tweet something or message on Facebook. It’s been all over the globe. But, how do you wrap your head around that? It’s impossible. And, that’s how they raise you in Aston. It’s a very Aston thing - you’re raised to be proud, be proud of who you are and where you’re from, but let it lie there.”
When he was younger, his life experience grounded him and provided him a basis for which he hopes his newfound fame sets the groundwork to realize his ultimate dream.
On the night of Oct. 21, 1980, as the Philadelphia Phillies were clinching the World Series title from the Kansas City Royals, 15-year-old Cage noticed a back pain. On Halloween, his parents took him to Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where he was transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia after doctors thought he had bone cancer.
“If you’re a spiritual person,” Cage said, “God takes you places for a reason.”
He was misdiagnosed but the images of 2-year-old children pushing chemotherapy carts never left him.
In February 1981, he returned for one of six surgeries to correct the condition in his back and he once shared a room with another 15-year-old named Jeff.
“I left the hospital on the 13, came back on the 19 for a doctor’s appointment, found out Jeff died on the 15.”
Cage remembered the teen and his devoted brother, Michael, who was always by his bedside. That memory fueled a dream he has to this day.
“At the end of the day, if I had a choice, I would be a full-time baseball/basketball/soccer coach,” he said. “I would spend all my time with my kids and other kids. That’s what I love to do.”
It’s why he agreed to do the show, even though it took him away from his wife, Karen, and their children, Madalyn, 20, Megan, 17, David, 12 and Jimmy, 10, even as David was in the middle of capturing a state district championship with the Aston Valley Baseball League.
“I can’t do that right now so how am I going to get to do that at some point?” he asked about being a youth coach. “Well, the show has the opportunity to do some huge things that I couldn’t do without it. So, ok, I’ll sacrifice this now to get to where I want to get to.”
There was a point he wasn’t certain what would happen.
“That ebbed and flowed for me because it did take so long,” he said. “We had highs and lows throughout the process.”
In December, his former agent said to him, “Ken, I’m telling you now. It’s been too long. You’re not getting a second season.”
“And, I’m like, ‘Well, did they say that?’” Cage said.
“Well, no, they didn’t,” the agent replied.
“Well, then why would you?” Cage asked.
And, the agent told him he had never seen a season renewed after such a lapse.
“I had to swallow that for a while,” Cage said.
Finally, in January, the call came - Discovery was interested. But, then, more time passed.
“I have no idea what they go through in a network,” Cage said but it was becoming unnerving again. “I had never held any ill will or grudge. (I thought,) ‘Gosh, this takes a long time.’”
In April, the path was clear for the eight episodes to be filmed.
For the first week, Cage and Thompson met with the Undertow Films production team of Jorge Abarca, Jeremy Baron, Timmy D’Antonio, Gab Taraboulsy and Amy Hatfield-Love.
“That meeting allowed us to get to know each other,” Cage said, adding they asked him a lot of questions about how and what he does. “We had time to plan more this year. (They asked, ) What do you do and how do you do it? What makes you nervous? What makes you comfortable? What makes you happy out there? That gave them a lot of background to take the season further.”
He said that helped, especially on scene.
“I get quiet,” Cage said. “I’m lasered in and trying to see everything. Danny’s the same way. When we’re on, it’s very quiet.
“But, at some point, the story has to be told ‘cause you can’t have 15 minutes of....” he said as he twitched his head. “After 30 seconds, people are like, ‘Next channel....’”
At the L.A. meeting, Cage wanted to know one thing - compatibility.
“I said, ‘If you’re not my friends, this won’t work because ... there’s got to be a trust and a friendship,’” he said. “If we ain’t friends, this isn’t going to work. And, we all committed to that. And, like any friendship, there are times when things get hairy and you go, ‘I don’t like you right now.’”
“It’s very frustrating at times because I’m on the move,” he talked about being out in the field. “We’re not actors and there is no script. There’s times when we’re ready to move on a repo and they say, ‘Hold on. We need something first.’”
Despite the initial resistance, Cage learned to have great appreciation for what the production team did.
“There’s just times we’re just in this hairy, hairy, hairy spot and stuff’s going down, 1,000 miles an hour for us and (Abarca) might be tucked behind a wheel of a truck or something,” Cage said.
Afterwards, he’d ask the cameraman, “Where were you?””
“Oh, I was over there,” he’d say.
“These guys are so talented they could get me ordering a coffee and make it look like, ‘Oh my God!’” Cage said. “I’m a very straight line analytical person and these guys see rainbows and clouds. I’m a little jealous because they can see things out there. That’s the fortunate part of working with geniuses.”
Yet, it was an abbreviated timeframe - what took six months last year was crammed into two this one.
“It was a fast, fast turnaround, but it was great,” Cage said. “It made me crazy. I missed (his sons’) baseball games that I didn’t want to miss. But, you know what - do you want a show or don’t you? All of us missed stuff.”
He compared the two seasons.
“The first season is weird, it’s surreal,” Cage said. “They originally started saying they wanted me in ‘09, so it took from ‘09 until ‘13. After all that time and all that work and all that effort, finally. You see it and you’re like, ‘Ok, this is so awesome.’ For a second, you’re like, ‘That’s really me. Who would have thought?’”
Now, he’s gotten through what he’s been told is the most difficult thing to get - a second season.
So, he’s simply trying to savor the moment, even with the anticipation there may be more to come - a lot more.
“And, that is just so wacky to me and I don’t get it,” he said. “I don’t get it. But, you know what? I’m having fun. I like to see how processes works, how things happen.”
And, it’s a moment he, and all those who worked on it, can cherish forever.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve done,” Cage said. “This year will absolutely blow away last year. I guarantee you that. It’s going to be incredible. It’s going to be off the charts. It’s going to be by far the best.”
The second season of Airplane Repo will premier at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22 on the Discovery Channel.
Story and Photos: http://www.delcotimes.com
When he's not filming for his reality TV show, "Airplane Repo," Aston native Ken Cage, right, is the Aston Valley Little League commissioner. From left are his son David, 12, wife Karen and son Jimmy, 10. (Times staff / JULIA WILKINSON )