Last New Year's Eve, Westside playwright and screenwriter Gideon Brower found community in an unexpected place. He waited with a small crowd that gathers on Santa Monica Boulevard below Westwood to watch a billboard that totes up estimated smoking deaths. At midnight, it resets to zero. "People cheer and drink champagne," Brower says in a piece that aired today on KCRW.
Here's the thing. The billboard doesn't reset to zero automatically. Every New Year's Eve for the last 20-plus years, an employee of the billboard company has climbed up the ladder just before midnight. When his cellphone gives the word, he starts the death count over again.
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Brower wrote about this earlier in the year on the LA Times op-ed page.