The roar of 20 motorcycles could be heard rumbling up Riverside Drive toward Salvage Station in Asheville on Friday afternoon. The riders, followed by the luminous green Junk Recyclers box truck, joined about 300 family members, friends, co-workers, colleagues and acquaintances who gathered to remember and celebrate the life of Tyler Garrison.
The news of Garrison’s sudden death in a motorcycle accident in Texas early on the morning of Sunday, Feb. 18 shocked those who had known him and called him friend. The local entrepreneur, activist and organizer, who called Asheville home for the past seven years, once described his businesses, Junk Recyclers and The Regeneration Station, as two halves of a whole. Both ideas sprang from his efforts to recycle and repurpose unwanted items and keep them out of the landfill. The loss of his energy and gift for action has been keenly felt among many in the Asheville community this week.
Sebastian “Sebo” Rodriguez, who works in the TRS Garage, which specializes in rehabbing motorcycles, and Rick Creed, a vendor at TRS, organized the ride in Garrison’s honor. “I firmly believe that he’s with us now and he’ll be riding along with us today,” Rodriguez said.
“We’re all family here today,” Creed agreed. “Tyler had so much love to give. He wore his heart on his sleeve. We lost a good man.”
Smoke and the sharp smell of sage wafted across the yard at Salvage Station. A sacred fire that had been tended night and day since Tuesday by several of Garrison’s close friends had been brought to the large fire pit to finish its fourth and final day of vigil. Garrison’s large family of friends hugged and comforted each other. Donations were accepted on behalf of Garrison’s young daughter, Nova. The common refrain repeated among those assembled: “Tyler would have loved this.”
Garrison’s enthusiasm for community networking brought together many different people and led him to found an activist coalition, Community Roots. Suzannah Park, who worked with him there and helped lead the celebration, invited close friends up to the microphone to share their memories.
Nikki Allen, manager at TRS, and Phil Stoltz from Junk Recyclers talked about Garrison’s passion and energy for building community. “Meeting each and everyone of you today has made me feel so happy and so loved and supported,” Allen said. “This support that we have had right now has meant the world to us, to Kat, Nova, Nicole, the Junk Recyclers, the Re-gens. I mean, we’ve had so many people come in the store and just hug us. But don’t stop. We still need you. We’re going to need your support for a long time. I know everyone of us that knew Tyler knew how special he was. And he’s not going anywhere. He can finally be everywhere at once!”
After over an hour of sharing memories and stories, Park called the group together to close the celebration and sing “Happy Birthday” on what would have been Garrison’s 35th. As the crowd raised their glasses and sang, and the candles on the pineapple upside-down cake were lit, a gust of wind swirled through the room and blew out the flames. It was just that kind of a day. Tyler would have loved it.
All photos by Cindy Kunst.