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You expect to encounter a few middle fingers, a bit of honking and a few curses on any road, but when did the streets of the suburbs turn into a ’90s Guy Ritchie movie?

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My mom's not quite a little old lady yet. She doesn't have blue hair (it's a shade of red that only women in their late 60s seem to have) and she can still outrun me up the stairs.

But still, she's the last person I'd expect to be called – this.

"I got called a c-word in the parking lot at Sobey's today," she said on the phone.

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It doesn't quite register. Car? Customer? Croissant?

She eventually had to spell it out. It turns out it's the word Bristol Palin doesn't like Bill Maher using about her mom. I'm not thrilled to have it used about mine. I didn't even think moms knew that word.

I should be more surprised than I am. But, lately I've been hearing the word, among plenty of its relatives, screamed out of car windows at fellow drivers and at pedestrians. The culprits haven't been longshoremen or Hell's Angels – they're ordinary people in nice, clean cars.

I'm a little worried. You expect to encounter a few middle fingers, a bit of honking and a few curses on any road, but when did the streets of the suburbs turn into a '90s Guy Ritchie movie?

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, at a corner full of families on benches having ice cream, a man in an SUV aimed the word at a silver-haired lady in a minivan while they were stopped next to each other at the light.

He used it four times – once for each letter – along with a word Samuel L. Jackson likes to use when he's on a particularly lousy flight.

The lady in the van kept her cool, apologized and said she hadn't realized she'd cut the guy off – she'd signalled to move in front of him so she could turn at the light. The other driver kept cursing – it was a long light – and then floored it to clear the intersection. During all this, a family got up from their bench and left. A few others just rolled their eyes.

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Mom did once say that names wouldn't hurt me, or anyone else (it's in the mom handbook). And yes, there are thousands of drivers out there who don't cuss out anyone in earshot – or at least they do it with their windows rolled up. I like to think that most of us are still polite, or at least indifferent. What gets me is the lack of respect. It sure seems like it's getting worse. But then again, maybe I'm remembering a past of polite drivers that never really existed.

Do we do things in our cars now – where we think we're protected like Iron Man and can speed away to avoid a fist fight – that we'd never dare doing if we were facing each other one on one?

Oh, and mom's offence in the grocery store parking lot? The man pushed his shopping cart into the handicapped spot before he got in his car to drive away. Mom moved the cart out of the spot and to the side. The man saw this in his rear view mirror, backed up to face her, rolled down his window and told her, among an awful lot of four-letter other things, that she shouldn't worry about where other people want to stick their carts.

"I just said, 'That's not very nice,' and kept walking," she said. "What would be the point of yelling back?"

"Besides, I've been called worse."

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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