To Deb and Bob Cilk, a walk down Pleasanton streets is much more than exercise. Their treks around town are journeys of discovery similar to expeditions by anthropologist Margaret Meade, only they are studying today's culture during the pandemic of 2020.
"We frequently walk downtown and love all of the creativity and goodwill that our great hometown has to offer," Deb Cilk said.
She takes photos to document the current phenomenon, delighting in an inspirational chalk drawing or a rough sign reading, "Take one," above buckets of produce or handmade tchotchkes.
Little Free Libraries, which normally offer an informal book exchange, now serve as trading posts for neighbors to share surplus goods. Cilk snapped photos of the repurposed cupboard on Black Avenue, now dubbed a Blessing Box.
"This was the first time I'd seen it with canned goods," she said.
They also pass over Arroyo Valle on their walks.
"With this crisis does come blessings," Cilk said. "We are seeing more and more parents fishing the creek with their children, or looking for turtles or fish."
Where St. Mary Street becomes Division and continues to Hopyard, they spotted a huge red popsicle standing on end next to a home.
"I asked the owner, who was out front one day, and she said, 'My husband and I like to collect art,'" Cilk said.
The Cilks have owned ReMax/Accord in Pleasanton for 30 years and are known for collecting Halloween costumes for those in need and warm coats during the holiday season.
During the recession, Deb Cilk began a job as a gate agent with JetBlue at Oakland International Airport, and in 2010, was hired as a flight attendant by Virgin America. Even during shelter in place, she has continued to fly two to three days a week.
"Like every industry, it's been touched hard, and has decreased flights considerably," Cilk said. "When it started, we would see sometimes four to six passengers."
Travelers were often health personnel who shared their stressful experiences. Others were flying to be with seriously ill loved ones and hoping they would be able to see them in person. Eventually everyone was required to wear masks and bring their own food and drink.
For a while, airports were like ghost towns, Cilk noted, with shops and restaurants closed.
"Some airports were completely empty. I felt like I was part of the cleaning crew," she said. "It's been an interesting journey, to say the least."
But Cilk added that as thought-provoking as her experiences flying these days have been, she is more impressed by the stories of others.
"There are so many more remarkable stories of the Tri-Valley people … who are digging in deep to serve and make a difference and help the world to be a better, safer place, no matter how small the gesture," she said.
Gordon Gane, 87, gives concerts two afternoons a week in his driveway, performing on various instruments in his collection, which includes a harp and a melodica.
"The neighbors bring their lawn chairs and sit 6 feet apart, enjoying the music and the human connection," Cilk said.
Kim Chew has been trading hand-sewn masks and fruit from her trees for Haikus and has received beautiful, creative responses.
"Our neighbor, Ray Bartolomucci, owner of Strizzi's and Rigatoni's restaurants, and his team prepare and deliver savory meals for local hospital staffs and police and fire departments throughout the Valley," Cilk said.
"The neighbor at the corner of Greenwood and Wingate roads had a basket filled with homemade art crafted with wood, free for the taking."
She also lauds teachers, including those who make every effort to connect with students who may not have computer access at home.
"These teachers had to become Zoom experts overnight and are now navigating a whole 'new normal,'" she pointed out.
As Cilk photographs motivational messages left on rocks and sidewalks, she said she feels it is an honor to document and share these caring actions.
"They are actively making a difference to make this world a better place," she said.