Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Letter from California-June 28, 2004

I got a letter in the mail a couple days ago from my car insurance company. In big red letters on the envelope, it announced that some important changes had been made to my policy that I needed to read right away. Were they raising my rates? Did they have a hidden camera in the passenger seat that showed that I hold up a lighter and sing along with “Freebird” a little too often while driving? Did they have spies in the Home Depot parking lot all those times I played a game I call “Who Wants to Drive like Steve McQueen?”
Not quite. Instead, it was a warning about two new kinds of danger. These days, we know that we’re living in dangerous times. For example, just this week, a man walked right up to the security checkpoint at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, just south of L.A., with a gun and ammunition in his carry-on baggage. He didn’t try to hide it, really; he just put it right through the x-ray machine. Thanks to the eagle eyes of airport security, the criminal mastermind got locked up. On the bright side for him, he’s been nominated for the Dumbest Terrorist of the Year award. Best of luck with that, bonehead.
It’s a dangerous time, and in addition to idiots taking to the sky with rifles, there are a couple of risks that my auto insurance company (I won’t tell you the name of the company, but I will say that they operate in States with Farms and states without them) has decided it can no longer cover. Take a second and try to guess.
Ok, time’s up. You got it wrong. The answers are mushrooms and nuclear explosions. To be more precise, the company has said that any personal injury caused by fungi (mushrooms, mold, spores, mildew, etc.) while driving is positively not going to be covered by my policy. Also, by the way, a nuclear explosion wouldn’t be covered either.
I’m serious. They sent me a letter to say this. If I get any crazy ideas about crashing into a nuclear reactor or eating a handful of Magic Mushrooms on my commute to work, financially speaking, I’m on my own.
Of course, it’s only partly as crazy as it sounds. I’m sure the company has been sued at least once about mold in the floorboards of a car. I can’t explain the nuclear part, but if I ever do get an NWD (Nuked While Driving), my auto insurance claim probably won’t make it to the top of the priority list.
It did remind me, though, of how much danger we face on a daily basis. Sure, there’s NWD and WMD, but fungi is an example of micro-danger. It can come from anywhere. For example, did you ever use those crunchy little silver balls to decorate Christmas cookies? A lot of people do, and in fact, they’ve become a gourmet item in California. I didn’t realize two things about them though: first, they are called “dragees”; second, they actually contain some silver. Silver, of course, is toxic.
After I started thinking about micro-danger this week, I found a report from last December in the San Francisco Chronicle about a Bay Area lawyer (yes, he’s from San Francisco) who sued pretty much everyone he could find in the Bay Area who sold dragees. The Chronicle says that Mark Pollock admits he “doesn’t know anyone” who has been harmed by eating dragees, but being a busybody, killjoy lawyer, he figured why let facts stand in the way of his pointless hostility and interference with other people’s lives.
Amazingly, companies like fancy-pants gourmet food store chain Dean and Deluca and others caved into his demand, and it’s now easier to get marijuana in San Francisco than it is to get silver Christmas cookie balls.
Why give in to such a thing? Too expensive to fight, they say. Well, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Knowing how easily they cave, I’m going to set aside a day to think of things I’d like them to do and just threaten to sue them. That should be fun.
Maybe Pollock doesn’t care about the facts of dragees and their effect on their health, but the Chronicle asked an expert at the California Department of Health Services, who said you’d need to eat “massive quantities” of dragees to do any harm. They don’t know how many because going to the trouble of finding out would be, well, a gigantic waste of time and money.
Of course, the bakery owners don’t like it. The Chronicle spoke to Nora Tong, a baker in San Francisco who now has to sneak her dragees in from France. She thinks the whole matter is ridiculous and said, “I will always buy them. I love dragees.”
So there’s good news and bad news and then more good news. The good news is that thanks to the bravery of people like Pollock, Californians are now safer from a danger so small that it’s not even worth measuring. The bad news is that if a nuclear explosion buries my car in mushrooms and poisonous dragees, I have to pay to tap out and repaint the fender.
I feel for Tong. She went on to say that she admits Pollock has gotten people in her profession worried: “It’s too bad that we are all so fearful, and we are being terrorized by this.”
That means the other good news is that it looks like California is going to have two entries in that Dumbest Terrorist of the Year competition. I like our chances!


  • At January 2, 2008 at 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    I know this is responding to an ancient Letter from CA about the silver dragees, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your "Letter" - what a bonehead hippie that lawyer is... now everyone is forced to get their dragees on the internet instead of taking a quick trip to the Kroger store down the street because no store wants to carry dragees anymore due to the liability. Well, if that's what I have to do then so be it - because I am not denying my small daughters (or myself!) the pleasure of having a Christmas cookie with those little silver balls on it!


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