During the summer, an 8-year-old goes to work with his dad in a grimy used auto parts store in East Los Angeles.
His dad's business is mostly online these days, so dad sits in the back office, posting parts for sale on e-Bay. Out front in the store that almost no one comes to, the boy, Caine, is alone with his imagination.
After visiting Shakey's Pizza for lunch and playing a few arcade games, Caine and his dad, George, head back to Smart Parts Aftermarket. Caine tapes the tiny plastic basketball hoop he won at Shakey's to a big cardboard box, mimicking an arcade game.
Empty boxes are plentiful at the shop, and after several days, Caine has quite an arcade. He even makes arcade passes and brings some small cars and toys from home to use as prizes. He crawls inside the games, practicing how he will stick a strip of tickets through a slot for the customer after a winning play. Except there are no customers.
Over time, the arcade gets more elaborate. But still, nobody.
Then, a guy needs a door handle for his '96 Corolla. He walks in and sees a wall-to-wall cardboard arcade. He's charmed by the boy and asks how many turns you get with a fun pass. Five hundred, the delighted boy tells his first customer. As the kind man plays the games, George's secretary runs into his office, motioning to the security monitor: There's a customer playing the arcade!
The next day, the customer, Nirvan Mullick, returns to Smart Parts to ask George if he can make a short film about Caine and his arcade. George tells Nirvan that no one but him has ever played there. So Nirvan gets creative, and the following Sunday afternoon a huge group of people surprises Caine at his arcade.
Volunteers help Caine staff the games to handle all the customers.
The resulting 11-minute film can be seen at http://cainesarcade.com. You really shouldn't miss it; it's such fun.
It's tempting to think that Internet magic fulfilled Caine's wish for customers at his arcade, but it was really a kind stranger who did. Nirvan saw a sweet, lonely kid with an amazing imagination and decided to make the kid's day. Being a filmmaker, he knew he had a great film idea there, too.
There's so much proof in this world that one person can make a difference. I don't know how we ever were persuaded to think the opposite.
Since the video, a lot of unimaginable things have happened.
Here are a few: Caine's arcade games were a visiting exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco; Nirvan set up a scholarship fund for Caine that has raised $212,000; Caine was a guest lecturer on entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California; Caine's dad, George, had a heart attack and, through being known by so many people, the family was held up and supported by thousands of strangers during their ordeal; George now has a Facebook page called Smart Hearts Aftermarket where he and other people post heart-healthy recipes and he reports occasionally on how he's feeling; and Caine and his mom accompanied Nirvan to the Cannes Film Festival and toured France.
Nirvan has parlayed all this into even more goodness. He formed the Imagination Foundation; it will get a $250,000 grant when Caine's scholarship fund reaches that amount, there's a Caine's Arcade Facebook group for Inspired Educators, and a National Day of Play is being planned and kids in Utah can take part.
All this because the right guy needed a door handle and saw that he could open doors for a kid.
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages.