FAIRBANKS — A dozen flat rate shipping boxes with destinations like Vermont, California, Washington and Ontario lined the countertops of Jesse Flores’ office at Alaska Mini Storage.
Going into them were Hot Wheels cars.
Hundreds and hundreds of Hot Wheels. There were Caminos in every color, collectible VW Drag Buses and rare Treasure Hunt models of every make with Mattel’s upgraded sparkly paint jobs and extra-nice wheels.
Some ranged from just a few dollars in value to others that were worth more than $50. The contents of some boxes were worth well more than $200, but Flores was sending them all for free.
Despite the chance to cash in on the collectibles, the 46-year-old collector who is widely known in online Hot Wheels collectors circles as “Big Frosty” says he does it for fun, hoping to share what he loves with others.
“It’s one of those things that I’m fortunate enough to where I can purchase and get items that most people would not even consider going after,” he said. “They only want one car out of the series, why buy a $40 case? I don’t care, I buy a $40 case and like 90 percent of these cars are gone because I have these relationships in these groups where I have no problem just sharing my toys.”
Even if he does have something to sell, Flores says he’ll stuff the box full of other little goodies. But mostly, he’s sending out what he calls his random acts of kindness. Within the collecting communities, he’ll make note of people who share his love of the little die-cast collectibles.
And every so often, he’ll randomly pick people off that list — which has grown to more than 200 people — and send them a little package.
Flores’ generosity can be seen throughout the Internet, with YouTube videos of collectors happily unboxing RAOKs (random acts of kindness) from Big Frosty.
“A nice RAOK that came in for Christmas all the way from Alaska. I guess that’s where Santa Claus is these days,” said YouTube user PickerNation in a video uploaded shortly after Christmas 2012. “Thank you very much for that Jesse, I’ll have to hit you back on that. Thank you very much again.”
People can’t just sign up to be on his random act of kindness list. He’ll seek them out. But he says the best way to make sure you don’t get a box is to post cool finds to the Internet accompanied with an eBay link looking to turn a nice profit.
“I did eBay for eight years,” he said. “I made a enough of a living so my wife didn’t have to work for about five years. Yeah, I spent 8 to 5 on the computer and we were making enough money where we were pretty well off, we paid our bills and had enough extra money, but it got to the point that it became more of a greed type of thing.”
It was about that time he found avid fellow collectors around the world posting their finds and collections to Facebook. Some groups were personal and Flores found friendship and a renewed appreciation with fellow collectors that he didn’t have before.
He gave up pursuing a profit and settled into collecting, trading and sharing his collection, which as of today is near 10,000 Hot Wheels.
“You find something that you like and you don’t want it to be a job,” he said. “Hot Wheels and eBay was a job. I had to make enough money to cover my expenses. Once I found these communities online, these groups, it wasn’t about making money. The money issue is no longer in play.”
And it’s that enjoyment that is so essential to Flores.
Flores was born in Los Angeles, but was raised by his grandparents in Mexico. He talks fondly of them, tearing up when he talks about how much they meant to him. But he returned to his family in Los Angeles when he was 10 and it wasn’t easy.
“I had a very, very good childhood with my grandparents, who raised me as their own,” he said. “They raised me with all the love in the world and I was very happy. To be pulled out of that and all of the sudden to get snatched up and be brought back to a family I didn’t know, there was a language barrier. None of my siblings spoke Spanish and that’s all I spoke. So my relationship with my parents wasn’t the normal relationship.”
It was a disconnect that planted a seed for an adult who went on to have anger issues and a gulf between his family and him that still hasn’t ever really been resolved.
But among the rough childhood, his happiest moments were those spent with Hot Wheels.
“I just felt like an outsider, so as a child I just had these issues, but the one thing that sticks out is me playing and having fun with Hot Wheels,” he said. “I think that’s a direct correlation to how I feel now. Yes, I’m in a better place now, but I remember my childhood as not such a happy place, but there are happy moments. You find me a patch of dirt and it was an escape from the turmoil of the family situation that I was in.”
That’s also why Flores likes to open up his cars, instead of keeping them in the pristine, and highly valuable, original packaging.
Flores doesn’t like talking about his past very much, but said he came to Alaska in 1997 to look to get away from the stress of his old life.
“I came up to Alaska from Los Angeles back in 1997, I was basically doing a reset of my life,” he said. “I had pretty much stressed out and wanted a new beginning.”
In Alaska he worked as an airbrush artist painting murals in buildings that have since been torn down. But the work was few and far between. He says he likes working at Alaska Mini Storage now because it’s a low-stress job that allows him time to work on his collection.
He has four children and his youngest 2-year-old son can be heard laughing joyfully in a room adjacent to his office.
Flores’ personal collection now is nearing about 2,500 cars. He estimates there are another 6,000 in a heated storage unit. Most of those will eventually be packed up and sent off to fellow collectors.
But his most prized possession is a plastic container of 48 original Hot Wheels cars from his childhood. There are a fair number of military themed jeeps and vans mixed in with tow trucks, race cars and muscle cars.
He’s still looking for the rare Oldsmobile 442 Staff Car, which can fetch more than $400 in good condition. He might pull the trigger and buy it off eBay or it could be included in a box sent to him from another trader.
Either way, Flores says he’ll continue to grow his collection and share his toys with others.
“I love this hobby for what it reminds me of,” he said. “Being a big kid is just that. You’ve got to do what makes you happy.”