Sometimes your mind just takes a hike. Mine took a giant economy-sized one not long ago as I steered the car off northbound Interstate 270 at the Rockville exit.

If you want to go toward downtown Rockville after you exit, as I did, you must be in the left lane. And you'd better get there fast, because a left turn onto West Montgomery Avenue looms within about 500 yards. But my mental hike was in full swing (there was a good bluegrass song on the radio, your honor), and I found myself marooned in the right lane.

So at the last minute, in a fit of selfishness, I cut over. Just cut over. As if no one else was on the road.

Risky. Stupid. And, as it turned out, wrong. There was somebody else on the road. I nearly took off his fender in moving left.

All my fault so far. But from this point forward, it was all his.

So frustrated was this driver (hadn't he seen the likes of me before?) that he roared around to pass me on the right. It's about a mile from where he cut in front of me to downtown Rockville. For that entire distance along West Montgomery, he kept playing tag with me--moving left if I tried to move left, right if I tried to move right.

He kept beeping the horn. He kept jamming on the brakes, hoping I'd run into him. He kept making signs out the window with his left hand. Let's just say they were not affectionate.

Finally, I cut off abruptly down a side street, in an effort to lose him, the way the bad guys try to lose the cops in the movies. Mercifully, I succeeded. But my mouth was parched, and my heart was pounding. Truly, I feared for my life.

My saga of Rockville Roulette is the inevitable result of our love for the automobile. The guy I cut off seemed to think I had offended him, not the traffic laws and not the machine he was driving.

He seemed to think he had a divine right to occupy the slab of concrete I stole from him. Cut him off from that right or that slab, and he took it as personally as any slight he might ever suffer--maybe more personally.

I was lucky. All I got was hand signs. But sometimes the identification between a car and the ego of its driver spills out of control.

Anna Chesser of Falls Church writes about a similar cut-off episode on Van Dorn Street in Alexandria not long ago. It ended with the man she had inadvertently cut off giving the driver's side door of Anna's car a karate kick. Anna hasn't pursued it because "I am frightened to get more involved with this character."

I don't blame you, Anna. I'm not going to get kicked or shot by one of these maniacs just so he can blow off a little more steam. The hinge on my other cheek still allows it to turn just fine.

But let me say this to all you poor, injured souls who have been cut off and who think you've been mortally offended:

Come off it.

If you don't blow your tops at other frustrations in life, including many that are much bigger, why blow at this? Be as adult as your licenses say you are.