What started as a joke quickly achieved cult status in Castro Valley.
CV Legends, a page that Castro Valley resident David Ashton created on Facebook, is the place to go for reminiscing with old friends, even the ones you haven’t met.
David’s posts—and the dozens of comments that inevitably follow—capture sense memories first and foremost: what it was like to watch fish in the tanks at the pet store, let go of Grandma’s hand to pick up a sea shell, or take pride in a collection of 1978 Star Wars action figures.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “I try not to put too much of myself into it.”
To see samples, look at the photo gallery at right.
“I wanted to get a whole world view of Castro Valley from different perspectives,” said Ashton, a 1993 graduate of Castro Valley High School. “At first, it was about wackiness.”
He mined his childhood for inspiration and encouraged others to do the same. “I grew up kind of just on my bike, on my skateboard, with very little parental supervision,” he said.
David is one of those guys who looks like he’s about to say something funny. His eyes sparkle, his facial muscles suggest readiness to surprise, the corners of his mouth turn up even when the full smile has yet to manifest.
“I’m a person who doesn’t take a lot of things seriously,” he said. “I joke a lot. I try to make people laugh."
His first post?
“It was probably about throwing eggs, shoplifting or starting a fire,” David said. His shoulders shook as he leaned into a laugh. His eyes flickered as if he was watching a movie in his mind, making a listener want to watch that movie, too.
The name of the site came from "a fake motorcycle gang." Two of David's high school friends thought it would be cool to wear leather jackets with "CV Legends" emblazoned on the back.
Although he makes the most of mischief, and leaves the impression that he was in trouble a lot, David turns serious for a moment to say, “I’ve got a decent head on my shoulders and I always knew how not to go too far.”
As of Monday night, CV Legends had 2,271 fans.
While large-scale organizations count their Facebook fans in the thousands (BART, 13,000; Oakland A’s, 255,000; and the Alameda County Fair, 9,000), most single-city operations count their fans in the 10s or 100s, with a few exceeding 1,000.
Another popular local page called TheCastroValley has dual sites, one a fan page with an impressive 1,589 fans, which is still 700-ish fewer than CV Legends. (The other TheCastro Valley page has 3,506 "friends," nearly triple the number of CV Legends "fans," making it the grand champion if you count friends instead of fans. Either way, with friends or fans, people have signed up to regularly hear from you.)
More impressive than its number of “likes” is the number of comments the page gets on a single post. Forty-one isn’t uncommon.
“I’ve never edited anyone’s comments or pulled anybody out,” David said. “I’m a big believer in the First Amendment. If someone wants to make themselves look like an idiot, be my guest.”
He posts over breakfast, usually from his iPhone. Throughout the day, he captures ideas: “car washes, breakups, sitcoms, driver’s education.”
David believes one of the keys to the page’s success is that he isn’t out for personal gain. “I grew up here. I love this place,” he said, explaining his motives.
A history major at Cal State East Bay in Hayward, David wanted to capture a “living history.” It’s the “wealth of memories,” he said, “that give the community its value.”
Born and raised here, David now lives in the house where he grew up. He bought it from his parents. His son, Kane, 15, sleeps in the same room where David slept when he was 15. His daughter, Haley, 11, attends Creekside Elementary School, as David did. David married his high school sweetheart, Stacey, at age 20.
For the past 10 years, he has worked as a meter reader for the Alameda County Water District, which is the equivalent of East Bay Municipal Utility District but for Fremont, Newark and Union City.
When first asked for an interview about CV Legends, David said in an email: “Absolutely, but I'm warning you in advance: I'm very boring.”
During the interview as well, he was self-deprecating. “I think what I do is very pedestrian,” he said of his daily posting, “but maybe I’m more determined than some."
“I’m a shy person,” he said. “But if I have a job, it’s different. This site is a way for me to engage a lot of people in Castro Valley that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to engage with.”
Although the site started with David and a few of his peers, it soon attracted people of all generations, including some with memories from the 1940s.
“At least once a week, I read comments where I think, ‘This is why I’m doing this.’”
Were those comments particularly moving, insightful or enlightening? Not so much.
It’s more that David enjoyed discovering people like him, having fun in their hometown, and savoring the memories, or as David put it: “Here’s a bunch of knuckleheads who were doing this stuff way before I was.”