Case #4 Vanity Plate

June 18, 2015

The Case:

Starlee and her friend Miranda get stopped at a red light and see something shocking.  

The Facts:

Mystery Show is produced by Starlee Kine, Alex Blumberg, Melinda Shopsin and Eric Mennel. Producing help from Phia Bennin. Eli Horowitz is contributing editor. Engineering help by josh Rogosin. Thanks to Matt Lieber. Logo by Arthur Jones.  Thanks to Matt Carlin and Darren Foster. Special thanks to Miranda July.

The Music:

Original score by the band White Dove

Closing song “Go Far” written and produced by Emmy the Great, performed by Emmy the Great, Leo Abrahams and David Gardener. Go Far was mixed by Dave McCracken. Additional score used in the episode was written, performed and mixed by Emmy the Great too.

Opening theme song “Those Mysteries” was written by Russell Mael and Ron Mael and performed by Sparks.

Our ad music is by Build Buildings.

The Sponsors:

Kind Snacks

Squarespace (use offer code “Mystery” for 10% off)

Show transcript

Transcript PDF

Starlee Kine: One afternoon, My friend Miranda and I were driving around Los Angeles one afternoon.

Starlee: What were we doing that day?

Miranda: I was getting my shoes fixed.

Starlee: And I was with you.

Miranda: Like a good friend who’s willing to do errands as a way to hang out.

Starlee Kine: It was the kind of day where everything felt fun and a little charged, even shoe repair.

Starlee: And then we stopped at a red light.

Miranda: Right.

Starlee: How long do you remember that red light being?

Miranda: I want to say maybe 12 to 15 minutes. In my experience of that light, we’re still there. That’s how long it was.

Starlee: Yes.

Miranda: It was the kind of thing you realized it was long, commented on it, forgot about and then hours later were like, “oh my god, you know what I just realized? We’re still at that light.

Starlee: Right, right.

Miranda: Here’s the thing, when you’re stuck at a light, you’re kind of just looking for anything to read and look at. We were just very willing to jump down any rabbit hole we could find. And there one was right in front of us.

Starlee Kine: A mystery.

Starlee: What did we see?

Miranda: We saw a license plate that said ILUV911.

Starlee: Yes we did. That’s exactly what we saw.

Starlee Kine: To be technical, we saw a license plate with the letter “I” followed by the letters “LUV” and then followed by the number 9 and 1 and 1. ILUV911.

Miranda: And we were looking at the cars around us and the people, like is anyone seeing this? How can this be? Right here in broad daylight.

Starlee Kine: The plate was attached to an old buick wagon, half beige, half a sort of orangey tan, colors that cars don’t come in anymore. We couldn’t stop talking about it. We would try and move onto a new topic of discussion but we kept just coming back to that plate.

What could it mean? The most obvious explanation, that the driver was a terrorist, that didn’t even make sense since the last thing a terrorist would do is get a license plate that said: “I’m a terrorist.”

We had the distinct impression that the driver was trying to communicate something powerful to us. I mean just think about the steps involved in getting a vanity plate that says “iluv911.” Standing in line at the DMV to get the wrong form, standing in line at the DMV to get the right form, standing in line at the DMV to turn in that form. The person would have had so many opportunities to reconsider and yet they powered through, determined to declare their love to a world that couldn’t possibly relate. We didn’t know if we’d ever understand that love but we felt a need to at least decipher it.

When the light finally turned green, at a point so far into the future that everything that is in fashion now returned to fashion again until the world seemed exactly the same, we got into the left hand lane. We were now directly alongside the buick. The driver was an elderly woman. In my memory, she was wearing the kind of hat you might wear to church. The idea of not finding out the answer felt crazy. I wanted to get out of the car, make the universal gesture of “roll down your window, and tell me what your inscrutable vanity plate means.”
Instead, we turned left, and the woman and the answer went straight. Back then, I didn’t think there was anything else I could do about it. But now I do.

(music -­ why is there time?)

From Gimlet, I’m Starlee Kine and this is Mystery Show. (music ­- why is there space?) Every week I solve a new mystery. Mysteries that can’t be solved online. Mysteries that can’t be solved yourself. (music ­- Why are there dogs and cats and trees and the human race?) Unless you’re me. Because this week on Mystery Show, the mystery is mine. Curveball, I know.
(music)

Miranda: So you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Starlee: I’ve got a lot of work.

Miranda: Oh my gosh. I don’t know how you’re going to find her. What I’m picturing is, you’re going to go back to that light and she’s going to still be there.

Starlee: Well it was a very long light. So what’s going to happen is I’m going to run the plates, I’m going to investigate all the leads, then I’m going to give you a report.

Miranda: Oh I love that. I, for my part, will just wait.

Starlee Kine: My first task was to head to a police station to ask a cop if he could run a complete stranger’s license plate and give me her personal contact info.
(music)

Once inside the station, I met a police sergeant who wasn’t allowed to talk to me on tape. But he was permitted to just shoot the breeze with me for a while.
(music)

He told me how much he was looking forward to retiring, three years from now. He planned on moving to the country, so that his daughter could grow up riding horses and he and his son could sit around all day, playing guitar.

I asked him if he could run a license plate number for us. He said he could have, if the plate was right in front of him, where he could see it. Or if he had an official reason to do so. he’d be able to do it. I had a feeling that didn’t include because I just really want to know.
I wished the sergeant good luck on his future life and left to pursue other options.

Darren: Starlee?

Starlee: Hi.

Darren: How are you?

Starlee Kine: This is Darren. He’s an investigative journalist. I thought he might have some advice for me about how to get a cop to run a plate. He said it wasn’t a matter of asking the right way. It was a matter of asking the right cop. He knew one who owed him a favor.

Darren: I don’t want you to get your hopes up too high, because the last time the car had a valid registration was from August 2010 to 2011.

Starlee: That matches up with my timeline of when I last saw it.

Darren: The problem is, because it’s not registered, we can’t get a name on it.

Starlee: Really? That’s how that worked?

Darren: Yeah. I asked him if he could see who it was previously registered to and he said couldn’t get that information. Right now it’s a bit of a dead end.

Starlee: Did it show when the license plate was first got? Is there any record of that?

Darren: I don’t see that here.

Starlee: No.

Darren: It doesn’t say anything ­ Well it does say… Hmmm I’m just noticing this now. It does say Nov 18, 2008, previous license, and there’s another number here of that previous license. I wonder if we run that number.

Starlee: Ooh! Yeah.

Darren: Well let’s find out. You got me curious now too, so we’re going to see. I’m going to follow up on the previous license plate.

Starlee Kine: Darren told me he’d have to go through a cycle of non­favored related phone calls to his guy, before he’d be able to hit him up about the second plate. I understood and told him I would wait for him to get in touch.

There’s something that might have already occurred to you but that never once occurred to Miranda and me while we were stuck at that light that day. What if we were reading the license plate ILUV911 all wrong.

Let’s consider some alternate theories:

Perhaps her favorite bible passage was “Sing praises to the Lord, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings.” Psalm 9:11.

Or perhaps it was simply a matter of improper punctuation. We were inserting a forward slash, 9/11, where there should’ve been a period: 91.1 tape: 91.1 commercial

Eric: So it could be 91 X in San Diego.

Starlee Kine: This is one of my investigators, Eric.

Eric: Which as implied by the X, like all X stations across America, … it’s like an alt rock station.
(music from station)

Eric: And it’s not because I love 91.1FM in San Diego but I think my brother would. The X station where I’m from in Tampa Bay is 97x and my brother has this really lucky streak of winning all their on­air competitions. We tallied it up at Thanksgiving last year and he’s won something like $7000 worth of gifts and trips from the “Caller 97”

Starlee: Really?

Eric: I think they know him. He’s on their facebook page. He won a trip to New Orleans. He wins concert tickets, like backstage passes, all the time. So I think my brother is the kind of person who would get “I Love 97.1” in Tampa Bay. I’m going purely on gut here.

Starlee Kine: Even so, Eric still only gave it a twenty percent change. 91X was a broadcast out of San Diego which he worried was too far away from LA.

Starlee: Do they have contests?

Eric: I’m sure they do.

Starlee: What’s playing now?

Eric: If I were to pull it back up, it is…

tape: contest and music.

Starlee: That was a contest.

Eric: That was a contest.

Starlee: I don’t know. I feel like you’re gonna have to pump that percentage up.

Eric: 20% is a lot for someone who doesn’t live in San Diego and who would love Daft Punk.
(music)

Starlee: And do you think there’s a difference between LOVE vs. LUV?

Eric: mmm… At one point in my life, I would have said no.

Starlee: You mean like when you were a teenager, luv meant…

Eric: Yeah, like all you know is luv, therefore it is love. Right? Then as you get older, there’s a more distinct separation between the two. That’s sad too, isn’t it?

Starlee: Like for yourself?

Eric: Yeah, it probably was nice to just luv something. There wasn’t so much weight attached to it, like the weight of a moving vehicle.

Starlee Kine: What seemed more likely than a psalm, more likely even than a radio station that was barely affiliated to the radio station where Eric’s brother kept winning contests, was that the numbers 911 meant 911.

Everyone I knew seemed to think so. First I would tell them about the plate, pronouncing it as “iluv 9/11” and they’d be shocked. Then, I would bring up the possibility of it being “iluv 9­1­1” and they’d say, “oh yeah. That’s probably what it is.”

Miranda: Now, in hindsight I think it could be that she works for either just the police, or they work specifically for 911, like an operator. Or 911 saved her life, or the life of her child. And so, yeah, she loves them.

Starlee Kine: I didn’t know when the women had gotten the plate. I did know that Miranda and I had seen it ten years after the event that forever made the plate very easy to misconstrue. Whatever it was that this woman loved, she had to love it enough to be okay with that. Would a 911 operator feel that way?

Carol: I started in 197­–oh wow­–1974.

Starlee Kine: This is Carol.

Starlee: So you were one of the first of what we know of as 911 operators.

Carol: Detroit was one of the first big cities to have it.

Starlee Kine: When 911 began, the idea of just one number that would service all of your emergencies, was such a novel concept, that a typical call would go like this: A person would dial 911, the dispatcher would answer, the caller would say “oh it works!” And hang up. Eventually, people figured out the system, and then they started calling in about everything.

Carol: There was one situation­ I just picked up the phone and this person said there’s a German Shepherd dog driving the car. He gave me the description of the car and the location and I hung up and it’s like, “how do I say this without sounding like a complete lunatic?” You know? But I didn’t have much choice so I gave it out. And within 2 or 3 minute, an officer comes on the air and says “yeah, you’re right, I’m sitting behind this car and there’s a dog sitting in the driver’s seat, and he had his paws up on the steering wheel and he is aiming the car.”

Starlee: What!

Carol: Yeah. So he pulls it over and the guy had taught the dog how to steer and he was sitting in the passenger seat, working the foot pedals, the brake and the gas. And apparently the dog did pretty good, as far as steering.

Starlee: I have a lot of questions. If you teach your dog how to drive, is that illegal?

Carol: Well we joked around about who was going to get the ticket, but the guy got the ticket. We cited him for allowing an unlicensed driver to drive the vehicle.

Starlee: Wait a minute! If the dog got a license would it then be legal? Carol: Probably.

Starlee: This is probably not the lesson I’m supposed to learning from this, but I want to teach my dog to drive as soon as I get off the phone.

Carol: Well don’t do it on a busy road, that’s all I have to say.

Starlee Kine: Carol tells me she would sometimes be the only dispatcher working and would have to figure out how to juggle the different calls coming in. The most urgent ones were labeled hot calls. She remembers one night getting three hot calls all at once. There had been a traffic accident with injuries; three guys in ski masks were hanging around outside a convenience store; and a man was drowning his wife in a swimming pool. And then:

Carol: In the middle of this, a lady calls to report that there’s a dead squirrel in her yard. This is really low on my priorities list at the moment.

Starlee: Does your mind now prioritize things in a certain way because of the years spent doing that for emergencies?

Carol: I think so. I think you look for ways to fix things, to be more self­sufficient. Some people are always trying to turn to somebody else to fix their problems.

Starlee: Having a job where people call and ask for help has turned you more self­sufficient and makes you ask for help less?

Carol: Yeah. Does that sound backwards?

Starlee: Well, yeah kind of. Well, counter­intuitive. I would think the lesson would be it’s good to ask for help.

Carol: It is good to ask for help, but I’ve heard so much that happens to people, good and bad, that it helps you put into perspective what is really something that’s important and urgent and what’s just life and you deal with it as it comes.

There are some calls that linger forever. It snows a lot in Michigan if you didn’t know. So, it was winter time and it was snowing and this woman was driving to work and she lost control of her car, hit a snow plow head­on and was killed. She happened to be my age, she had young children. It took on a personal tone. And it’s just a call I’ve never forgotten.
I got all this information because I looked at the police report after it came in. After. And saw all the details. And I wish I hadn’t.

At that point, I learned I probably didn’t want to read most of the police reports because I didn’t want to know that much about what happened.

Starlee: the story I’m working on is about a license plate I saw that said ILUV and the numbers 911. I’m trying to figure out what it is. Do you think it’s possible to love 911?

Carol: I do. My guess would be it’s someone who works for it that would put that.

Starlee: Really? Why?

Carol: My license plate was 10­9. That was the police code for “repeat your message.”

Starlee: That was your license plate? Really?

Carol: Yeah, it was a personalized license plate. When we saw those police radio codes on people’s licenses plates, we generally knew that meant they worked for an agency.

Starlee: So you see other license plates that have police codes, radio codes or 911 references in them?

Carol: Yeah, it’s not uncommon.

Starlee: So you love 9­1­1?

Carol: Yes, I would say I do. You really and truly can help people. Most days, you go to work and it’s just a job. I’ll be really honest. It is. It’s just a job. But every once in a while, you get that call where you get the police and the fire in time to save somebody. It’s exciting.

Starlee: You’re definitely nudging it firmly over to the I love 9­1­1 license plate argument.

Carol: That’s what I would think if I saw it, yes. I think they’re proud of it.

Starlee Kine: ILUV911 had just edged ahead as the most convincing theory. One I felt compelled to believe unless I found the buick’s driver and she told me otherwise.

Darren: I have news for you.

Starlee Kine: Here’s Darren again.

Darren: Can I tell you something really funny that happened on the way to getting
this?

Starlee: Uh­huh.

Darren: So I sent the new license plate to my friend, and while I’m waiting for him to get back to me because he wasn’t at a computer at the time, I’m sitting in my office, and all of a sudden I hear a crack outside. And I look out my window and some guy has sideswiped my car and knocked the sideview mirror off. He takes off and I go chasing the guy down the block like a lunatic in my slippers. He gets away. He blows through the light.
But the guy has a vanity plate.

So my friend comes back with the answer to your plate and I had to write him back and say, “actually do you have time to run one more?” And it turns out he lives down the block from me. I just drove by it this morning.

Starlee: And the car was there?

Darren: It was there. I have to go back. It was after a run, I was all sweaty, I didn’t want to show up looking like an animal. I’ll take a shower and then go back.

Starlee: Is his vanity plate easier to understand than “iluv911.”

Darren: Yeah definitely.

Starlee: It’s like, “I love sideswiping rearview mirrors.”

Darren: Exactly. It was “I wreck cars.” In the course of a couple of weeks, I’ve run a bunch of license plates. I’ve only done it once before in my entire life, and now I feel like I’m running license plates all the time. So, do you want to know about your license plate?

Starlee: Yes.

Darren: I got a name.

Starlee: Really? Wow.

Darren: Yeah. I’ll tell you the name and you can bleep whatever you need to bleep. So the name is (bleep). Now the bummer is, there’s an address here, but it’s a P.O. box. This person doesn’t want to be found.

Starlee: No kidding. This person is so the opposite of the person who sideswiped you.
Darren: I know.

Starlee: If only that person was the person I was looking for, the case would be closed really easily.

Darren: Just walk down the block.

Starlee: Ok, we’ve got a P.O. box so I can send a letter, and we have a name.

Darren: The only thing now is that there is a lot of pressure on you to write a letter that they’re going to respond to. I can tell how much this means to you. And I would say, just don’t over think it. I always overthink it. As you know, my last letter, I wrote the letter over and over for two months before I sent it. And then in the end, I was replied back, “yeah let’s talk.” So don’t overthink it. Don’t overthink it.

Starlee Kine: Iwrite a letter and mail it to the PO Box address, feeling like, I was back where I started… once again, waiting.

Want to know what that felt like? Here’s your chance, during this short break.
(ads)

Starlee Kine: Ihad thought that the hard part of solving what ILUV911 meant would be finding out the driver’s identity. Once I had that, I assumed that everything that followed would be as easy as teaching a dog to drive a car. But, incredibly, the driver ­ let’s call her Margaret ­ was becoming more of a mystery to me with every attempt I made to reach out to her.

I waited weeks for a response to the letter I sent, but never heard back.

I searched public records for every possible combination of her name and then called every number that came up. No one ever answer. Each number had some version of an anonymous outgoing message. This was a woman who had put such a personal message on her license plate, but you couldn’t leave a simple “Hi, I’m not in right now,” on her voice mail.

I would have just knocked on her front door, but I couldn’t find another address for her, beyond the P.O. box. But then finally, another one of my investigators, Melinda made a discovery.

Melinda: I just did a cross­reference thing that excited me, where I figured out married name, I think.

Starlee Kine: Searching under this new name, Melinda found a new house address that had the same phone number listed as the P.O. box. We now knew where Margaret lived, or at least once lived.

Melinda: I did a search to see if she was still getting utilities billed there.

Starlee: Mhmm. You did? What?

Starlee Kine: Even if Margaret wasn’t living at this address anymore, it was still the best lead I had.

Matt: We’re getting close. This is our exit.

Starlee: I know, six minutes.

Starlee Kine: Being as how it was my first stake­out and all. I wanted ot do it right. Stale coffee: check. Red vines: check. Stake­out partner: check.

Matt: You’re driving real slow. Is it this block?

Starlee: It’s coming.

Starlee Kine: This is my friend Matt. His main stakeout partner qualifications are that his schedule is flexible and that he is prone to grumbling.

Matt: I think we should call and complain because that was ridiculous. Imagine rush hour, forget it, you’d be there forever.

Starlee Kine: It’s after 8 when Matt and I arrive at Margaret’s neighborhood. As we turn onto her street, it dawns on me that ok, maybe I hadn’t taken everything into account. Like, at nighttime, it’s dark.

Starlee: Can you see anything?

Matt: I don’t know. I can’t even see any numbers.

Starlee Kine: After much squinting, and significantly more grumbling, we figure out which house is hers.

Matt: Look, that’s it.

Starlee: This one?

Matt: Wow, this just got really real.

Starlee Kine: If an anonymous voicemail message was a house, it would look like

Margaret’s. Matt: There’s no lights, no car in the driveway.

Starlee Kine: There was also no sign of the car on the street. My plan had been to use the car as an entry point into a conversation with Margaret. Without the car in sight, though, I didn’t know what the next step was. And Matt and I couldn’t stake­out the house, because all the good stake­out spots had been taken.

Matt: If there was a spot right in front of the house, we would be on easy street.

Starlee Kine: But we weren’t on easy street. We were on hard street, at the intersection of frustrating and questionable. But wait,

Starlee: Matt!

Starlee Kine: Was that a glint of metal I saw?

Matt: Yeah there’s a car back there. Should I make a u­turn? Starlee Kine: Idon’t know why we were whispering. The windows were closed.

Matt: Alright, watch what I’m going to do.

Starlee Kine: Matt and I pull into the driveway as though we’re making a u­turn. There’s a low gate and our headlights shine through it, illuminating the back of the driveway and then from behind the house, with just its nose poking out we see­

Matt: Is that it? Do you see it?

Starlee: Matt, that’s it! That’s it. That’s definitely the car. Now, are you feeling disappointed?

Matt: No, wow, this is a great success.

Matt, that’s it! That’s it! Holy shit!

Starlee Kine: We pull back into the street. The car is swallowed up by the darkness once more. Having confirmed that I had the right house, I set out the next day on my own. I pull up outside Margaret’s. Of course, now that I wasn’t on a stake­out, there are plenty of choice stake­out spots available. Typical.

I open the gate, and walk up to the front door. I take a deep breath and knock. (music)
No answer.
I knock again.
No answer.
I knock again.

A slight shifting of the curtains, followed by a voice: “who is it?”

Here was a detail I hadn’t thought through beforehand.

“Starlee?” I say.

”Who?”

“Um, do you have a license plate that says i luv” I pause again. “The numbers 9, then 1, then 1.”

“Oh, that’s my manager, Margaret’s car,” says the voice, “I’m Sheila. Margaret lives in the house outback. I think she’s home right now. Just go and knock on her door.”

I thank Sheila and step away from the door, relieved by how smoothly this is all going.
“Wait a minute,” says Sheila, “when did you see the car?”

Here we go, I thought. I’d have to explain the whole story: the running of the plates, the calling in of favors, how it was a dog’s owner and not the dog itself who controlled the gas and brakes while driving.

“A few years ago.’

“Oh, that makes sense,” says Sheila. “The car hasn’t been driven since then.” The curtain falls back into place.

I had left my recording equipment in the car, and also my phone, in order to feel out the situation. When I went to open the gate to go get it, Sheila called out like a video game wizard and said I was going the wrong way. So I let go of the gate latch and walked down the driveway to Margaret’s house in the back.

Between me and her front door was the car. Its colors were a little more faded than I remembered, but otherwise, it was the same. There was a little plush stuffed animal dog perched on the backseat. I circled around until I was standing behind the trunk, and looked at the license plate. It was the same too: “iluv911.”
(music)

I went up Margaret’s steps so I was standing in front of her door. There were tchotchkes in the windows, a sculpture of a little boy riding a scooter, and another one of a woman dancing, windchimes twisted in the breeze. There was no doorbell, so I knocked on the metal gate.

No answer.

I knocked again.

Next door, the neighbor’s dog barked.

From the main house, I heard Sheila call out, “she’s not in there? I thought for sure she was. You’ll have to come back another day then.”

On my next visit, I wanted to bring Margaret a gift: proof of my friendly intentions. So I pulled over at the first flower shop I saw. Inside, the store was nearly empty, except half of a dozen orchids. I chose a purple one.

The man who worked there seemed so surprised that I was actually buying something that he pulled out all of the stops. He offered to transfer it to another vase; he added moss and tied a big ribbon around it. All the while, he talked to me, about where he was from ­ Mexico City ­ and how he loved to travel.

He said, though, that he hadn’t yet been to the place he most wanted to go: the 9/11 memorial in New York City.
(music)

 

He felt that he really needed to pay tribute to it in person.

I pull up to Margaret’s house, open the gate, walk down the driveway. Windchimes. Tchotchkes. No obvious place to knock. I rap on the metal gate, holding the orchid in my other arm.

I knock again. No response.

Next door, the neighbor’s dog is losing his mind. I put the flowers down on the stoop. Then, I knock again, louder, longer.

From inside, a voice. It is so faint, I have to press my ear against the door in order to hear it.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Starlee.”

“Who?”
Oh boy. Here goes nothing.
“Years ago, I saw your license plate and it made such an impression on me, that I’ve been wondering about it ever since.”

“Sweetheart!” says the voice. “My secretary gave me your letter. I’ve been meaning to call you.” I like that she calls me sweetheart. Her voice is so soft. “I can’t talk right now, sweetheart. I just got out of the bath. I’m wearing only a towel.”

Who was this nice sounding woman with the secretary that gave her letters? What was it that she loved?

“Sweetheart, after this, I have a doctor’s appointment. Can you come back another day?”

“What about later tonight,” I ask.

“I’m busy sweetheart.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Sweetheart, I have church.”

I tell her I brought flowers that I’ll just leave them on her stoop. “Thank you, sweetheart, thank you.”

It feels like instead of two doors separating us, there’s a hundred. It feels like even if those two doors were to open right now. She would still be just a voice. A voice somehow wrapped in a towel. I get back in my car and start driving.

I’m in such a daze, that I keep missing the streets I’m supposed to turn on. And then, my phone rings. It’s a Los Angeles area code. I pull into a parking lot and pick up.

“Hello?”

“Sweetheart.” It’s Margaret. “I only have a few minutes but I wanted to tell you the story behind my plate. Also, thank you for the flowers. They’re beautiful.”
(music)

Here is where I tell you that Margaret and I talked for eight minutes before her ride came to take her to her doctor’s appointment.

Here is where I tell you that I recorded the conversation on my phone, but when I later played it back, it was eight minutes of silence.

Here’s where I tell you the story of why Margaret got a license plate that said “iluv911.” Not psalm 9:11, not “iluv 91.1,” not “i luv 911.”
“iLUV911.”

In 2001, Margaret was living in New York. Her mother was living in Los Angeles. That year, Margaret had a feeling. She doesn’t know how else to put it. No one ever believes her about it, she says, but that’s ok. She had a feel she needed to go to LA for her mother’s birthday, so she booked a flight. Her Mother’s birthday was September 11th. Because she went to see her Mother, Margaret wasn’t in New York on the day of the attacks.

She believes that her life was saved by doing that, saved by her mother’s life. She got the license plate shortly after 9/11, to honor her mother’s birthday and also to commemorate the victims who died.

“I lost a lot of friends that day,” she tells me.

She says she knows when people see her plate, they think it’s 911, especially cops she says, they always remark about it.

She asked me where I saw it and I tell her which intersection.

“Oh yeah sweetheart, that’s where I used to live. My children went to school over by there.”

Here’s where I tell you that Margaret couldn’t have been warmer or more likable.

And here’s where I tell you that she promised to call me again, so that we could do a proper interview but when she did call, she said she’d been feeling under the weather and had to reschedule and then the next time, she said she had just been so busy trying to get her house ready to sell.

We never did do the interview.

I updated Miranda on what I had learned.

Miranda: Is the case solved?

Starlee: Yeah the case is solved. Do you think the case is solved?

Miranda: Deeply. Profoundly. We were right, there was something up with that plate. You know? More and more, I believe there is no accuracy in communication. There are only mistakes. It is so hard to communicate love, you know, or sadness combined with love. That’s a very complex thing. And that’s what brings us grace you know, it’s not accuracy. And she trusted that when she made the plate, that somehow the most confusing, contrary message in the world, would speak to people’s hearts because her intentions behind it were so clear and so strong, that it was effective. All the things that made our heart beat turned out to be relevant, and I feel like we got her message.
(closing music)

Starlee Kine: Mystery Show is produced by Alex Blumberg, Melinda Shopsin, Eric Mennel and me. Producing help for this episode from Phia Bennin. Eli Horowitz is contributing editor. Engineering help from Josh Rogosin. Thanks also to Matt Lieber.

Original score for this episode by White Dove. Closing song is by Emmy the Great. Opening song by Sparks. Arthur Jones made our logo with the toaster that now makes so much more sense to you.

And thank you, Jonathan Goldstein, Jorge Just, Sloane Crosley, Laura Kraft and Jon Ronson, you all helped more than you even realized.

Apparently, my clue last week was too easy since tons of you guessed “Stop in the name of Love.” William Hutson was the first one to send me his correct guess. Good job, William. Take the rest of the weekend off. I will obviously need to start making my clues harder. Starting possibly with this week’s clue-­ let’s just see how it goes: could’ve been the joker.

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