Long time ago, like about 1988, I had this idea: build a Martha’s Vineyard theme park in Falmouth. People could loll on virtual beaches, buy picture postcards and Black Dog T-shirts, and thrill to a hair-raising simulated moped ride on twisty island roadways, all without the expense and hassle of crossing Vineyard Sound. My modest proposal to this effect was published in both papers; the Vineyard Gazette even ran it as an op-ed with a cool carnival graphic.
At that point I was too newbie clueless to realize two things: (1) This would not make people in Falmouth happy at all, and (2) Martha’s Vineyard was a theme park already, or well on its way to becoming one.
I have lived in Martha’s Vineyard: The Theme Park long enough to know that though most visitors voluntarily fall for the illusion — for the $$$ they’re spending, it better meet all their expectations, so they convince themselves that it does — backstage at the theme park is most definitely Real Life. As anyone who’s ever been involved with theater or filmmaking knows, creating and sustaining an illusion is hard work. It also generates its own thrills, chills, and bouts of hysterical laughter, most of which go unnoticed by the visitors, who understandably think that the theme park is all about them. This gives rise to the perennial question: “What do you people do in the winter?”
We tend to finesse this question because (1) it takes too long to explain, and (2) the askers don’t really want to know. Most visitors, like most theatergoers, don’t want to know too much about what it costs to sustain the illusion that they revel in every year. Besides, it’s our Real Life, not theirs.
So yesterday afternoon at a wonderful party a friend and I got onto the subject of theme parkery. An ever-increasing number of year-round residents seem to have fallen for the theme park illusion, we noted, especially when it comes to agriculture. They rhapsodize about island-grown this, that, and the other thing without taking note of some key numbers:
- the cost of land
- the labor-intensiveness of small-scale farming
- the paltry wages earned by farm laborers
- the often prohibitively high cost of the resulting produce
As a commercial endeavor “island-grown” isn’t sustainable without a variety of subsidies, including agricultural development restrictions; people willing and able to work for wages too low to pay island rents, never mind buy a house; people willing and able to pay more, often a lot more, for local produce and meat. Last month the island’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) program was saved when three wealthy summer residents funded the purchase of Thimble Farm by the Island-Grown Initiative, which had been trying unsuccessfully to raise the $2.5 million asking price for the 37-acre farm. (For details, see “Big Donors to Fund Island Grown Initiative.”)
So my friend and I were brainstorming ways to make island agriculture sustainable, and (under the influence of beer, chocolate cupcakes, fresh pineapple, and other wondrous goodies) we came up with a Brilliant Idea. Here it is, uncopyrighted and ready to be implemented by — who? You?
- First, the Wampanoag Tribe gets to build the casino they want in Aquinnah.
- The VTA (Vineyard Transit Authority) runs regular shuttle service to Aquinnah from the ferry docks and the airport.
- Aquinnah licenses a lending institution or two to set up shop outside the casino so gamblers who blow their entire wads don’t have to stop playing.
- Gamblers who win big get complimentary limo service to the airport or the ferry dock, their choice.
- Those who lose big and can’t cover their losses are urged to indenture themselves to the Island-Grown Initiative or comparable local agricultural endeavor for as long as it takes to pay off their debt at minimum wage.