How do you react when someone cuts you off in traffic or commits some other act of motoring rudeness? Give him a blast from your horn? Maybe roll down the window and thrust a finger toward the sky? Pull up next to him and glare or even shout an obscenity?
Ah, those were the good old days, when civilized people could have an occasional uncivilized outburst without having it escalate into hand-to-hand combat or worse.
Now most of us know better. A beep of the horn, giving the bird, or even a shout can be the modern equivalent of the glove-in-the-face challenge to a duel to the death.
Alfred Woodbury, 45, knows better. An ex-cop and now a state child abuse investigator, he is street-smart.
But as the flower children liked to say, stuff happens.
And Woodbury's blood pressure went up when he was driving on Chicago's Roosevelt Road and, he says, a big tractor-trailer truck swerved and almost forced him off the street.
"I wrote down his license number and the name of the barrel company he works for and I thought I'd contact his employer.
"But it made me so mad that I pulled up next to him, rolled down my window and told him a few things. I really can't repeat them.
"He yelled back and told me to pull over. It was stupid, I know. I know, I know. It was real stupidity.
"But I pulled over. I guess I thought, I'm a former police officer, been with the Department of Children and Family Services for seven years, I'm wearing a suit, I can handle myself -- what could happen to me?
"So I got out of my car and I stood there. He jumped out of his truck and he's got this big tire iron.
"That's when I knew what could happen to me. I could get killed.
"He comes running up and starts swinging the tire iron. I put up my arms to protect myself and he gave me about four whacks on the arms with that thing.
"At first I was so stunned I just stood there. Then I took off running.
"There were some guys on the street, and they came running over, so he jumped back into his truck and revved it up. He bumped into two cars and then he just kept going.
"I got in my car to follow him, then I changed my mind and went over to the outfit he worked for, which wasn't far away. But nobody in charge was there. So I decided to go back to the crime scene.
"And there he was talking to some policemen. I guess he figured he should go back or he'd be in trouble for hit and run.
"I was glad to see the cops there, so I went over and introduced myself and showed them my state ID card.
"They said we could sign cross complaints against each other. That was fine with me. But when we got to the station, you know what they did? They arrested me for aggravated assault. I asked them why.
"They said he told them I had a knife and threatened him. That was crazy. I don't carry a knife. When I was a cop, I didn't even carry a weapon when I was off-duty because I knew it could get you in trouble.
"I told them that if I was going to be charged, I wanted to sign a complaint against him. At first they said I couldn't. I know the rules and I finally got to sign a complaint against him for aggravated battery.
"But there was something suspicious going on. That stuff about me having a knife. If they come up with a knife when we go to court, then that'll tell me there might have been some funny business between the driver and the police before I got back there.
"I shouldn't have been arrested. He attacked me with that tire iron, I didn't attack him. When I got out of my car, I thought we'd just jaw at each other."
Of course, if you hadn't stopped and got out of your car in the first place . . .
"That's right. My wife keeps telling me how stupid I was, that I could have been killed. You should hear her."
And if you hadn't yelled at the truck driver in the first place . . .
"Yeah. My wife keeps telling me how stupid that was, too."
Then listen to your wife. And never yell at another motorist. Unless it's a little old lady. They don't carry tire irons.
Of course, they might have long hatpins, so forget it.