Friendship Fail: How Acting on Accidental Stalking Creeped Out a Complete Stranger

"Hey, look at that license plate frame in front of us," my husband Spencer said from behind the wheel. 

I glanced up from the passenger seat and sat up straight.  "What the heck?"

"What's the problem?" he asked.

"It's that car again!"

There was no mistaking it. 

You see, for weeks, at different times of the day and in different parts of Orange County, I had begun to notice myself driving behind the exact same car: a red Honda Accord station wagon.

It was like a ghost car that kept showing up out of nowhere.

I remember the car specifically because not only are Honda station wagons rarely seen around Orange County, but it also had a very distinct license plate frame that got my attention the very first time I was behind it at a stoplight.

The frame read "Winning Group of America - Run USA."

I thought, "Ooo, sounds interesting.  I wonder what that group is.  It must be some fun running club, or a running store, or maybe these license plate frames are only given to US Olympic athletes..."

My detail-oriented mind joined forces with my over-active imagination to list out the possible reasons in my head for having such a license plate frame.

And because I prefer to torture myself these days with the pastime of running, I took a special interest in the frame's advertised subject.

But not enough to give it another thought once the light turned green.

Until.... dun dun dun.... 

A few days later, I looked up and saw the exact same car ahead of me at a different part of the day.  "Weird," I thought, followed by more pondering of this Run USA Olympic athlete who must have at least a bronze medal.

Or possibly silver.

And it wasn't lost on me what coincidence it was that I had seen the exact same car in front of me again, at a completely different part of Orange County, at a completely different time of day.

But then I shrugged and kept driving, and eventually traffic separated me from the mystery runner behind the wheel of the red Honda.

But then, a few days later, I found myself driving behind the exact same car.  Then again, a few days after that.

Then three more times in the same week.

Now, think about this.  There are millions of people in Orange County, and hundreds of thousands of people within an immediate few mile radius from my house alone.  We don't have empty lots here -- we'll put a house or a taco shop on any pile of dirt, if city ordinances will allow it.

And just about every post-16-year-old around here owns a car.

There are so many cars in this county, that our freeways are better known as parking lots.

So, then why was I running into the exact same vehicle, not once, not twice, but half a dozen times in just a matter of days?

Was it some sort of fate?

No, Jolie.  That's how weird people think.

After multiple run-ins with this car, I finally brought it up as a dinner table conversation topic.

"So... there's this car I keep seeing on the road... it's weird...." with my sweet husband taking enough of an interest to validate me until I changed the subject.

Cut to -- a couple days later, we were both in the car together when we ended up behind none other than the red Honda station wagon again.  

After having a conniption fit full of "What the heck??s," I did what any normal accidental stalker would do.

I pulled out my cell phone and took a picture:

The Run USA car.

"Can you see who the driver is?" I asked.  But before we could make out any details in his or her silhouette, traffic separated us. 

But then the very next day, on the way to work, I was flabbergasted to find myself again behind the exact same car.  And like a total-wanna-be-detective-who-is-really-just-a-weirdo, I managed to pull up next to it at a stoplight just long enough to get a glimpse of the driver.

She was a petite Asian with long hair.

Ah ha!  I finally had a face to go with the license plate frame.

But... she was pretty short for an Olympic athlete...  She must just be really fast.

After all, she pulled ahead of me when the stoplight turned green.  


I couldn't wait to tell my husband I had discovered what the mystery driver looked like.

Before I got the chance to, however, I was driving the 12-ish miles home from work that very same day in crawling traffic on the 5 freeway, when the car in front of me decided to merge into a neighboring lane.

Imagine my surprise when it revealed the new driving neighbor directly ahead of me...

The red Run USA Honda.


Twice in one day?

I looked around me.  There were hundreds to thousands of cars within my eyesight.  The statistical probability of me ending up directly behind this same vehicle both on the way to work and on the way home from work in the same day had to be next to zero, not to mention all the other times I had driven behind her in the past few weeks.

This needed to be a story problem in some college statistics book.

Officially creeped out, I continued to drive home, unable to keep my eyes off the red Honda.  About a mile before I got home, I saw her turn into nearby a neighborhood.

Great.  Now I knew where she lived.  This was weird.  

When I got home, I opened the door, dropped my purse on the table, and announced "She's Asian!"


"The Run USA driver girl.  I saw her both to and from work today.  I know what she looks like, and I know what neighborhood she probably lives in."

I paused.

"And I sound like a total stalker."

We laughed.

I thought a moment.

"Ya know, maybe I should try to meet her."

Spencer searched my expression to see if I was serious.

"I mean, she doesn't look like a scary person, and I don't look like a scary person.  What if the next time I see her drive into her neighborhood, I just happen to drive that same direction?  It's a pretty stalker-esque thing to do, sure, but maybe we all need to be a bit more friendly to each other and take a bit more risks.  We already must have running in common -- what's the harm?"

Kumbaya for my air-tight logic.

So right then and there, I decided that if I ever saw her drive into her neighborhood again, I would try to meet her.

Honestly, in that moment, I figured the chances of me seeing her turn into her neighborhood again were slim, so I wouldn't ever actually have to stalk her.

But no.

It was two days later.


I was driving home from work, when I was mortified to see none other than that red Honda station wagon with the Run USA license plate directly in front of me.

In my mind, I had made a commitment I couldn't back out of now.

There was no turning back.

Sure enough, the red Honda turned into the same neighborhood I had seen it enter before.

Only this time, a silver Tacoma also turned right behind her.  

My silver Tacoma.

She took a left into a residential neighborhood, and my silver Tacoma also took a left.

Stalking in action.
She slowed down, and I got nervous.  "Ugh... she totally sees me following her... I'm such a psycho."

Another left.  Then she began to parallel park her car on the curb in front of a house.

I did not look at the house.

Knowing what the house looked like felt like diving too deep into stalker territory.

Instead, I just pulled up next to her and rolled down my window.

With the most overly-friendly, unintimidating voice and face I could muster, I said, "Hi!"

She looked up at me, understandably confused.

I took a deep breath and continued.  "This is going to sound really weird, cuz it is weird, but I live in a nearby neighborhood, and I have coincidentally driven behind you about a dozen times, so I told myself that if that ever happened again, I would introduce myself and say hi."

She just stared at me.

I tried again. "Umm... I'm actually a runner, and your license plate got my attention."

She finally spoke.  "What?"

She had a very strong accent.

Oh no.

This interaction was going to be weird enough without any sort of language barrier.  If she had trouble understanding English, then there was no saving it.

"Are you a runner, too?"

She clearly did not understand what I was saying.


I tried again.

"Do you like to run?  Your license plate says 'Run USA.'"

She paused.  "Huh?"

"I'll show you."  I hopped out of my double-parked vehicle and walked around to the back of hers.  I pointed.  "See?  Run USA."

She looked at it for a moment.  "Oh... no, I don't know that."

My heart sank.  "Oh... the frame maybe came with the car?"

More staring.

Awkward times twelve.

And in this awkwardness, apparently I was accidentally taking selfies of myself...

Accidental selfie during our awkward conversation.
Accidental selfie via my phone during our awkward conversation.

One more try.

I reached out to shake her hand.  "I'm Jolie.  I have a running blog, which is why I wanted to meet you."

And none of this makes any sense to you, I thought.

"I promise I'm not as creepy as I seem," I awkwardly explained.

In a brief, unclear conversation, I gathered her name was something like Katzco (though it sounded like Costco), and that she moved here from Japan less than a year ago.

Great.  You haven't even been here a year yet and some random American followed you home.

Welcome to the home of the brave.

I wanted to pull out my phone and show her pictures of me doing normal, nonthreatening things, like working at Disneyland or something -- anything -- to prove I wasn't going to show up on her doorstep at 2am, but there was no time.  Suddenly my objective had gone from "making a friend" to "preventing this poor stranger from having nightmares for the rest of her life."

Abort mission!

She opted out of taking a selfie with me.

What a shock.

I finally freed her from our conversation, and openly mocked myself on the drive home.

She hadn't even been a runner.

She barely spoke English.

My "fun" idea of throwing caution to the wind only ended up making a stranger throw caution into everything she does from now on.

And "Run USA"?

Well, I finally went home and Googled it.  Guess what it is?

A really terribly-named tiny little used car dealership in Los Angeles.

Perhaps I should have Googled it earlier.

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