I drove around the state last week for no particular reason, other than the summer felt like a coupon that expires tomorrow, and I wanted to cash it in. Some observations about the state's roads:

1. I never quite get over seeing signs for the town of Motley. What did they discard before they got to that one? Scurvy? Ramshackle Falls? The word actually means "disparate assortment of things," so they might have named the town Various. That would have been great, especially if a nearby town was called Sundry, and they had the Various and Sundry High School. Then teams around the area would train especially hard, because it would be humiliating to lose to "Various and Sundry players."

"Motley" is also the technical description of a Renaissance fool's costume. Perhaps the town was settled by court jesters. You can imagine the hard first years, out in the fields, wearing their strange shoes with the curly ends, capering around behind the plows in diamond-patterned tights.

2. There's a stretch of Hwy. 10 between the Cities and St. Cloud that's utterly ordinary, smooth and even. Everyone takes this for granted. But surely many of us remember when this was 20 miles of washboard concrete. Your teeth would chatter, and you were sure that the vibrations were liquefying an important internal organ. You expected a billboard that advertised the Granite City Spleen Clinic. "Runny spleen from that last patch of highway? Our experts are on hand to firm them up and send you on your way."

3. Nothing quite matches the terror of passing someone on a two-lane road. You're behind someone who's doing one mile per hour below the speed limit just to irritate you. "Hey, pal, some of us would like to get to Kimball at 2:12 instead of 2:14, OK?" When the other lane is clear, you punch it and swing out. Maybe you even raise a hand in the universal driver's language of what-the-heck. Not the finger; that would be rude. But the raised palm. I mean, you're a State Trooper, you can go as fast as you like. Well, here's how it's done, Smokey.

4. Goal: stopping for a home-cooked meal at the Country Copper Cup 'n' Kettle in some small town. Reality: a slice of pizza from Casey's gas station because you're making good time.

5. Verndale has a new water tower. It has the town logo: an angry pirate. You wonder if everyone had become accustomed to low water pressure, and the first time they turned on the shower, the unaccustomed force knocked them off their feet.

I always stop in Verndale to break up the trip. This time, heading back to my car, I saw something glinting in the gutter: a gold coin bearing the face of the Verndale Pirate. No doubt left over from some city celebration. I picked it up and put it in my glove compartment, where it will be an occasional reminder that there's a whole big state out there, full of small surprises.

The Cities are like a black hole, sometimes, dense with its own gravity, hard to escape. Sometimes it's good to leave for no reason, just to remind yourself how much Minnesota there is, waiting to say hello, waiting to pour you a cup of coffee.

And waiting to pull out in front of you and do 5 mph below the limit. What the heck, pal.