Hanging with Caine Monroy three months after NBC LA featured his cardboard arcade, it's like nothing has changed. Aside from a new game here and there, the arcade he made of old boxes in his father's auto parts store in Boyle Heights is, for the most part, intact.
But so much has changed and the connections Caine has created reach far beyond Smart Parts Aftermarket at 538 N. Mission Rd. in Boyle Heights.
Masses from around the world have made the pilgrimage to play this 9-year-old's games nearly every weekend since a short film about the cardboard creation went viral in April, garnering 3 million views on YouTube making this industrial spot an LA destination.
Actor Jack Black and his kids were among those who visited.
"It was pretty cool when he came," Caine said.
Once home, Black's son created his own game and posted a demonstration online. It became part of an emerging trend.
"It was really cool once I’ve seen it," Caine said.
Inspired kids from the US, Mexico and across the pond are building their own arcades and posting their inventions on the Caine's Arcade Facebook page – which has more than 118,000 “likes.”
Teachers, who started their own page, are developing curriculum based on Caine's idea.
"Right now, there’s over 70 schools in nine different countries making cardboard arcades around the world," said Nirvan Mullick, the filmmaker who documented Caine’s arcade.
A dad and his son from Idaho built a skee ball game; students from an elementary school in Northern Virginia created 75 arcade games.
"There's another school that raised money for the Make a Wish foundation. So they are using these games and these businesses that they're building to help other kids or people in their community," Mullick said.
Mullick made the film about Caine after visiting the Smart Parts Aftermarket auto shop in search of a door handle for his car. What he found were the self-engineered games Caine developed last summer.
Mullick posted his ten-minute long film online along with a request for donations to help Caine go to college one day.
"The initial goal was to raise $25,000 for a scholarship fund and my girlfriend thought that was little high, and the first day we posted it, it raised over $60,000," Mullick said.
Within five days of posting the video, the Goldhirsh Foundation offered a matching challenge grant up to $250,000, Mullick said.
With his scholarship fund surpassing $200,000, Caine seems pretty well-equipped for higher education. Now, there are new goals.
The extra money will fund the newly-created Imagination Foundation aimed at fostering creativity and entrepreneurship in kids like Caine.
"Yesterday, I left him all by himself all day and he built two extra games at home," said George Monroy, Caine's father.
Monroy admits his son is taking over the shop, but this self-made businessman said as long as his shop is here, the arcade will be, too.
"Every day I wake up and I have to pinch myself. I've got to see if it's really happening or not to think that around the world so many people are involved with it now,” Monroy said. “It's mind boggling.”
Amid the accolades and excitement of Caine's growing popularity, the Monroy family has dealt with George's failing health. He suffered a major heart attack and underwent emergency heart surgery.
George stopped smoking, is eating a plant-based diet, and created the Smart Hearts Aftermarket Facebook page to track his progress and connect with others.
"I have a guy from Maryland, every morning, he's like, ‘Good morning, George. Good night George,’" he said.
It’s like all things associated with Caine's Arcade: a coming together to work toward a greater good.
So what of this kid? He is the young man the University of Southern California invited to address an audience at the Marshall School of Business and then shared the event online.
He's the youngest speaker ever at the Cannes Lions Festival in France and received the Latino Spirit Award on the California Assembly floor.
Asked if Caine has changed since they first met, Mullick said:
"Well, Caine's grown six inches. I mean he has outgrown his staff shirt; outgrown three staff shirts," Mullick said, referring to blue t-shirts sold by the Arcade.
"His dad was telling me how this has helped him come out of his shell, stop stuttering a bunch of little things. You see him growing, but he hasn't stopped playing."
No matter the game, Caine reminds us all that we can dream, create, believe and, yes, play.
"I like when people come and play my arcade," Caine said.
In October, those behind the arcade are planning a "Global Day of Play,” in which people will be asked to sign up and build cardboard games in their homes, offices or other spaces and then invite others to play the games.
The event is planned for Oct. 2, the day Mullick and producers of the film surprised Caine with a flash mob of dozens of customers. The moment was captured in the original film.
Funds raised at the October event will go toward building a workshop for kids where the Caine phenomenon all started: in Boyle Heights.