Weekly Local Biography

  Mike Potter


By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.

Mike Potter was born in Oklahoma City in the USA. His family owned a grocery store, and he worked there after school and on weekends. He was a stock boy, a cashier, and a grocery bagger. He probably had every job in the store before he was grown, but he earned a small salary and he saved it. He was on the high school wrestling team and had a lot of friends. By the time he started college, he had enough money saved to pay his way. He wanted to be a teacher.
But Mike Potter didn’t know that a casual movie would change his whole life. “The Great Escape” was based on a true story, and Steve McQueen played an American motorcycling hotshot/escaped prisoner of war who rode all over Europe in this adventure. Teenaged Mike could just envision himself doing that. And he did. After two years of college, he convinced his younger brother to join him, sold his car, gathered his savings and took off to see Europe on U.S. $2 a day (80 baht)! Their first purchases were two new motorcycles, and their budget was divided into $1 a day for petrol, and $1 a day for living expenses. Food was cheap, wine was 20 cents (about 8 baht) a bottle (you could refill used bottles for even less) and the boys were comfortable sleeping in youth hostels, haystacks, corn fields or being smuggled by new friends into college dormitories.
They went all over Europe. They got into trouble at the Berlin Wall, and had their film confiscated. They saw Check Point Charlie, and Dachau. They literally walked their motorcycles up the Alps, but had a great trip down. They learned to speak enough Italian to order a great pizza, and Mike became convinced that he was Mike, the Greek, just like “Zorba the Greek”. Then the money ran out. They wired home and begged their father for a quick loan. He sent $50. They sold their motorcycles and by the time they got on their return flight, they had 10 cents between them. They borrowed $20 and landed in New York City with $3.50. This is where it gets funny. Enterprising young men, they reported themselves as vagrants to one of New York’s Finest in the hopes of spending a night in jail (three hots and a cot, they say) before they began the task of hitchhiking home. But the police officer wasn’t impressed. A little problem solving and they reported Mike’s younger brother, who was legally still a minor, as homeless, which got him a night at the YMCA. Mike sneaked into the building and rolled out his sleeping bag on the roof. The next day they headed home to Oklahoma.
Mike was a changed young man, and his girlfriend, soon to be fiancée, had travel plans of her own. Two years later, she also took off for Europe. He says he knew that life would never be boring if he married her, and it hasn’t. Mike joined the Marines, he and Cheri got married, and she went to work. He finished his college degree on the G.I. Bill which paid for college educations for veterans of the military. Mike found a good job with union wages to supplement their income. A few years later, he graduated from college with a wife and a nine-month-old baby, ready to teach. He took a huge salary cut when he left his union job, but he loved teaching. He even became a volunteer deputy sheriff.
He and Cheri made a big decision. They wanted a family, they wanted careers, and they wanted to travel. So they came up with a fun motto – live cheap and travel big. And they were innovative. At one point Mike learned that the National Guard planned to conduct innovative training in England. So he joined the National Guard and worked with the Royal Welsh Fuseliers in cross training in England. He almost ruined the war games when he reached back to his deputy sheriff training and discovered the opposing side’s plan. Out of the Guard a few years later, he joined again when he learned there were more adventures to be had with laser equipment.
At home, he and Cheri had two children, and had renovated a big Victorian house. That completed, the adventuresome two became bored and sold it. Then they moved to a log cabin in the south of Oklahoma. They still spend time there when they’re in the U.S. Life went on. They traveled all over the world. The kids grew up, and Mike retired at the age of 52. He and Cheri moved to Tulsa, thinking they would love life in the city without the pressures of jobs. In six months they were too bored to stand it anymore. Cheri began volunteering at a hospital, and Mike volunteered on a medical mission to Mexico. It occurred to them that they could still indulge their love of travel if Mike took a job teaching abroad, so they attended a job fair in Nebraska. Almost the next thing they knew they were living in Thailand. How many times have you heard it? They simply fell in love with Chiang Mai.
Six years later, Mike retired a second time. Now it was “payback time”. He will tell you with no hint of embarrassment or hesitation that he and Cheri have had full and overflowing lives, that they never would have thought two people from Oklahoma would be able to do so much. So he volunteers as a teacher in remote areas of Thailand, and Cheri volunteers locally. They divide their time between Chiang Mai and the USA, spending quality time with their children and grandchildren. Life in Chiang Mai is a continuous challenge that keeps them young. It is never mundane.
Travel photos from a lifetime of adventures line their shelves at home. There is also a quotation from Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost”.