'Bring the love'

Tyler 'Tag' Eckles has been a good friend, so now let's return the favor

Posted: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Juneau is a small town, a microcosm of the small community that is Alaska. When something happens to a member of our local community, we often hear about it through an intermediary source before we have a chance to hear any details from the person experiencing the condition or event. That's just what happened to me in learning about my friend Tag, who is fighting a serious battle with cancer.

Tag is also known about town as Tyler Eckles, and is a bit of a legendary figure in Juneau and Southeast Alaska. Tag has for many years regaled locals and visitors alike with his distinctive one-man showmanship at the Red Dog Saloon, under the appropriately puckish stage name of Phineas Poon. If not for this current medical challenge, he'd be there this summer, day in and day out, singing and making people laugh out loud. Tag is a charming, warm-hearted fellow, and just about as nice as any one you'll ever meet. I am certain that he has personally provided some of the best and most memorable moments in Alaska for a huge number of our cruise ship visitors, but it is his local friends who know and love him best.

I briefly saw Tag before leaving for Hawaii in early April, and he told me he was in pain. Having left it at that, I was completely floored when I was told by a friend of his on the Big Island that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Honestly, I didn't know how to respond and by the time I returned to Alaska, Tag had taken off for some highly-specialized treatment. Mutual friends provided updates on his progress and impending return, but I didn't know when I'd see him again. I was thrilled to run into him one day in the parking area at our building.

You see, Tag and I are neighbors. Indeed, but if not for his kindness and generosity several years ago, I don't know where I'd be living today. When the owner of the place I was staying at was suddenly called to move to Hawaii, I was hurriedly forced to look for a place, and I desperately wanted to be downtown. Tag in no time found me a spot in the building he managed, where I have happily lived for several years now and where I remain to this very day. He didn't have to accommodate me, but I'll always be grateful for his having done so. I know that Tag has countless other friends who can offer up similar and much greater anecdotes of his selfless generosity. He's a prince among men.

Fortunately for all of Tag's friends we now have an opportunity to do something for this wonderful fellow. This Sunday there will be a gathering to celebrate Tag, which will double as an opportunity for his friends and admirers to help him in his time of need. Fighting cancer takes its toll emotionally, physically and financially, and Tag can use any and all support we can give him at this hour of need.

Reecia Wilson of the Hangar-on-the-Wharf has generously donated jambalaya for this party, and tickets are on sale. All of the proceeds will go to help Tag.

Many people have donated artwork and other items that will be sold in a silent auction, and again, these funds will go solely to support Tag as he confronts the challenges ahead. If you know Tag, I strongly encourage you to come to the Hangar Ballroom Sunday between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. for a good time and in support of a worthy cause. There will be music played by many of Tag's friends, and I expect a there to be a lot of joy. As Tag would say, "Bring the Love!"

Life is short, and replete with uncertainly. None of us knows where we'll be in six months, a year, or five years. We can, however, live for today and rally around our friends when they are beset with problems.

When an unexpected, indeed catastrophic, event befalls us, we don't want to be alone. I am grateful that Tag Eckles is my friend, and I know that sentiment is shared by a vast number of my fellow Juneau residents. I hope that one and all will at a minimum come to the Hangar Ballroom this Sunday for a great time, and to be there for someone who has always been there for so many others.

• Ben Brown is a lifelong Alaskan living in Juneau.

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