He was headed downtown, traveling along the 110 when — just like in the cartoons — a light popped on over Pervaiz Lodhie's head.
If this city truly wants to improve the look of the busy industrial landscape, he decided, it should at least replace the burned-out and flickering fluorescent tubes in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum & Sports Arena sign that towers 160 feet above the freeway.
Lodhie then went a step further. He agreed to supply the light bulbs.
Lodhie, who owns a Torrance-based LED lighting business, made the commitment when he met with representatives of Mayor
"I said it's a sign that is supposed to be iconic, but year after year it just looks uglier and uglier," said Lodhie, 69. "I made a passing remark saying I wouldn't have a problem donating replacement LED tube lights for it."
The mayor's representatives passed word of Lodhie's offer to the sign's owner,
"I thought that the sign had maybe 20 or 30 tubes," Lodhie said.
One hundred and fifty or so light bulbs later, Lodhie filled the order at no charge, shipping thousands of dollars' worth of LED lights in August to Coliseum operators.
Each of the tubes — some 8 feet long, some 6 feet and several 3 feet — contains 500 tiny light-emitting diodes mounted on a long chip board. As corroded sockets in the sign were replaced, the new bulbs were installed. The makeover was completed in December.
Designed to draw attention to events at the Coliseum and in the Sports Arena, the sign also features an electronic billboard. Its three legs, which shine in red, white and blue, are crowned by a symbolic "flame" that is reminiscent of the caldron atop the Coliseum's peristyle entrance.
Lodhie said his bulbs were installed in the billboards and the sign legs but were not attached to the flame symbol on top.
"I'm trying to find out why that flame isn't on. Maybe it's only turned on when the Olympics are here," he speculated. (Coliseum officials say the sign's flame has never been lighted.)
Located at South Grand Avenue and West 39th Street, the sign was constructed for the 1984 Olympic Summer Games, according to officials.
Pakistani-born Lodhie started his 125-employee manufacturing company, LEDtronics Inc., with his wife, Almas, in 1983 in the garage of their Torrance home. He said he made his first miniature LED lamp in 1972, when light-emitting diodes were mostly used for things such as elevator buttons and broadcast console switches.
"Back then, they were never appreciated," he said of the tiny bulbs. "They were invisible."
These days LEDs are commonly used in homes, street lamps and traffic signals and as automobile brake lights. Although pricier than incandescent light bulbs and fluorescent tubes, they tend to last much longer and require less electricity.
Robert Joyner, the Coliseum Commission's head of stadium operations and special projects, has calculated that the LED bulbs have cut the sign's power consumption by more than 28%, even though the previous fluorescent lights were relatively economical and many of them had already burned out by the time they were replaced. Lodhie predicts that the savings will eventually register above 50%.
The Coliseum sign bulb donation isn't Lodhie's first giveaway. He also produces solar-powered LED lanterns that he provides for free in Pakistani villages that lack electricity.
"That changes families' lives at night," he said. "And it does away with the pollution that comes with kerosene lamps."