WICKER PARK — To be on the receiving end of a slice of homemade apple pie is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a curious thing, especially when the pie is free and is handed to you by a stranger in a public park.
"Uh, what's your mission?" a man asked a young couple standing in front of a table at a Wicker Park fountain Wednesday.
"We are simply supporting niceness and sharing. People should be nice to each other. It's our agenda," said Sarah Fertig, before carving out a slice of pie for the man.
In a matter of 30 minutes, Fertig, 28, and her boyfriend, Chris Kovac, served six apple crumble pies to about 48 people, as well as 19 pieces of carrot cake.
For about half of the folks gathered around the fountain, the free pie appeared to be a surprise, though others who'd been following the couple's travels around the country though social media, knew about the "Pie It Forward" Chicago stop.
From March until October — with frequent stays in their home state of Michigan — Fertig and Kovac are on a mission to deliver free pie to more than 40 cities.
Wicker Park was the 12th stop for The Pie it Forward/OccuPIE Tour, which is funded through donations and has no connection to the Occupy movement or ties to any religious or political organizations, according to its website.
The small movement began in Ann Arbor, where Fertig and Kovac served pies every Wednesday in a public plaza.
Over the winter, Fertig decided to embark on a national tour with Kovac and their border collie, Shalosh, traveling in a camper they named Gracie.
The pies served in Wicker Park were baked in the Humboldt Park apartment of Peter Bradley, a freelance writer.
Bradley said he follows the Pie it Forward blog and arranged to host Fertig and Kovac about a month ago.
In each city, the duo looks for a host, preferably a "fringe weirdo," the term they use for someone who would be progressive enough to host them.
They shower, sleep and bakes pies in their host's home and leave a pie or two in appreciation.
Elizabeth Mucha, 22, drove into Wicker Park from north suburban Lincolnwood with a large carrot cake for Fertig and Kovac to serve along with their pies.
Mucha, a Fulbright scholar, is headed to Germany in the fall to teach English and said she's been following the couple's blog through the user-generated news sharing site, Reddit.
"For some reason, I can't bake pies well, so I made a carrot cake to share instead," Mucha said.
There were some frustrations: They forgot to bring their Mason donation jar Wednesday, and a guy had the chutzpah to inquire about seconds when people hadn't yet enjoyed "firsts." But they were minor frustrations compared to the impression Pie It Forward made on the admiring crowd.
Kathryn Grover, 30, a financial consultant from Logan Square, said she saw a chance meeting with her roommate over free pie as "a sign this summer is going to be amazing."
Meredith Zielke, 31, a filmmaker, and Grover had not seen each other in at least two weeks due to different schedules.
Zielke's boyfriend, Yoni Goldstein, 31, had noticed the free pie event posted on a friend's Facebook page and decided it would be a good place to take Zielke for "date night."
Zielke said what made the pie good was its crust, which she described as "dense, wheaty and fresh."
Goldstein said the "price made it good."
Chirag Gupta, 23, an entrepreneur, heard about the free pie though one of his bandmates, who'd heard about it through Facebook.
Gupta lives in Wrigleyville but said he thinks he "should move [to Wicker Park] because of things like this," while gesturing to his plate.
Each slice of pie was accompanied with a sticker bearing a slice of pie with "OccuPIE" written across it, the catch phrase, "Pie it Forward,' and website, www.pieitforward.wordpress.com
After their stop in Wicker Park, Fertig and Kovac said they planned to meet with workers from First Slice, a pay-what-you-can cafe in Andersonville.
Eventually, they would like to start a donation-based pie cafe in Michigan where folks can pay whatever they wish to give, Fertig said.
Until then, they plan to keep on moving.
To find out where Pie It Forward is headed next, consult their rough schedule.