Blast From the Past: The Devil is in the Potato Salad

Originally posted on September 29, 2016 at 7:03 am


Editor’s note: This essay by Sarah Hansing first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue 131, published in October 2007. Illustration by Melissa Dehner.

“The Devil is in the Potato Salad.” Somehow, I was looking for a little more profundity from a beer named Blind Faith. But no—this cap offered no more insight than the one that came before. The one that simply inquired: “How Much for the Goat?” A viable question, but I can’t say that I had an answer. Or a goat. I did, however, have five more beers left. Maybe the meaning of life was just a bottle opener away! The only noble thing to do was to find out…

So here I sit, with an ominous message about a picnic food.

I’m not quite sure how to interpret it, really. Is it a warning to watch for danger where you’d least expect it? A cryptic reminder to refrigerate? And why not: “The Devil is in the Double Cheeseburger”? I sincerely feel that Blind Faith is screwing with my head. I ignore it. Nonchalantly sipping my beer, I pretend that I’m not thinking about potato salad. I sing a song to distract myself. Much to my chagrin, the song I have chosen is a bad ’80s ballad. I stop singing and curse Air Supply. And my mind wanders back to the hidden secrets of potato salad.

I just can’t let it go. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

If you look hard enough, you can see the devil anywhere: in the details, in good intentions, in bad TV shows, in the potato salad—you name it. If you look hard enough, you can see whatever you want wherever you want to see it. With enough conviction, you can find meaning in the most ordinary of places. I know, because I have.

It’s nothing special. Just a bike. Just some dirt trail in the woods. Most people probably wouldn’t even know that it was there, just a misplaced patch of nature alongside the beltway. But I know better. I know that if you ride your bike into those woods, along that trail, something incredible happens. You become … you. Not your job, not your relationships, not your bills, your problems, your mundane daily routines or your midlife crisis. If you ride your bike into those woods, along that rooted, rock-strewn trail, you have done more than just take your life into your own hands; you’ve earned your freedom. You pick the line through the rock garden, the best way around slippery tree roots, the speed at which you approach the “holy-crap-that-wasn’t-there-before!” log ramp (which quite possibly lacks ramping on the other side). The choices are yours to make: left instead of right, over instead of around, kamikaze abandon instead of cautious deliberation.

You choose.

It could be blind faith in your riding partner’s ability to pick a good line. It could be instinct or reflex or reaction. Maybe, just maybe, it could even be a logical comparison of action and consequence. Regardless—when you ride your bike into those woods, each minute is spent dictating your direction, choosing your destiny. And even if it is the wrong choice, know that it is yours and yours alone. You made it. You own it. You probably even have scars to prove it. And when you find yourself begrudgingly at work, when you grow annoyed with daily routines, details and “to do” lists, sneak a look at those scars. Long for singletrack. Lust for freedom. Find meaning in the most ordinary of places; find the devil in the potato salad.

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