Sky-High Pies on Martha's Vineyard

Sky-High Pies on Martha's Vineyard

You haven’t lived, I am told, until you have inhaled a $34 fruit pie. No, that was not a misprint. Said pie cost $34. Cross my heart and hope to spit. The fantastic fulsome tart was within my grasp, but it was a berry too far for my vacation budget [in 2012].

Where does one find such dear desserts? Why on Martha’s Vineyard, of course, where the upper crust bakes on private beaches and parties with house money — i.e. all the cash they have saved on taxes during the past decade.

Mitt Romney and I were there the other weekend. He was raising money from the $34-pie crowd. I was trying to get off the island before my life savings evaporated. In the interests of fairness, President Barack Obama has been known to frequent the Vineyard and also raise a buck or two there, but he has the good sense not to visit during an election year.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Martha’s Vineyard and some of my best friends are rich. But when I spied that $34 pie, I realized we have reached a fiscal (and fruity) tipping point. The world is slipping away from us, we the people, who thought we could eat pie willy-nilly just about whenever we felt like it. No wonder everyone is so angry lately.

Let me provide some perspective. I live in rural Connecticut where, down the road apiece, I can acquire a pie for $12. Those nice pie people at the vegetable stand would probably give me three pies if I offered them $34, cash on the barrelhead. Most of us live in a $12-pie world and, at that, we don’t indulge too often. Twelve dollars seems like a lot more money today than it did just a few years ago.

Even for Martha’s Vineyard $34 is high for pies. There’s a little family-owned stand on the main road heading up-island where Triple Berry or Blueberry Crumb can be had for $14 – not $12, but not bad. They make what they sell, several generations do, right in their home out back. There’s no middleman or pie broker, no clever bundling of other people’s pastries into complex high cholesterol commodities. Make, bake, and sell, capitalism in its purest form. In the 1990s, then President Bill Clinton’s people ordered a passel of pies here and promised to pay later. The bill is still outstanding, but the pie people don’t grouse. The well worn story, it seems, is payment enough.

Further along the Pie Highway, the price jumps to $16 or $18 or whatever the traffic will bear. The extra cash for island pies is because of the ferry, they’ll all tell you, but I believe it’s the cachet. I have noticed, for example, that pies with lattice-top crust cost more even though the buyer is getting less dough. The higher prices fairly scream: "I am ingesting an elite pie on a fancy-pansy island and I don’t care who knows it – pass the sanitary wipes and the squeegee, please.”

As the rich get richer, one current political theory insists that they create jobs and we all benefit. Bakers of $34 pies make out, of course, as do tax lawyers, Swiss bankers, and Cayman Island fund managers, to name a few. Based on this logic we should be passing the plate at our respective places of worship for the well-to-do rather than the poor. The rich, after all, are our savior.

But what if this curious notion is wrong? What if all that extra money the rich now possess simply creates things like $34 pies? What if it establishes separate and unequal worlds where we $12-pie people can’t go or aren’t welcome. There are wealthy people who say they can’t afford to pay another penny in taxes who happily donate millions upon tens of millions of dollars to politicians bent on lowering their taxes further still. These people call it free speech, although it used to be called something else.

So the next time you are rummaging for change to see if you can cobble together $12, remember that there are people out there paying $34 for pies, maybe even more by the time you read this. I’ll bet we break the $40 barrier next summer. After all, it’s only money and the buyers have plenty of it.