By Deborah Wright Yoho
The last time I visited Vegas, the year was 1967 and I was fifteen years old. My family was passing through on our way to our new home in the Philippines. For an hour we ogled the bright lights of the Strip through the car windows, and I wondered why women wore high heels with their short-shorts as they teetered along on the sidewalks. We marveled at Frank Sinatra’s name on the marquee at the Sands, and then my parents scuttled us off to our beds at a small motel two blocks away from the hubbub.
Las Vegas today looks more like Disney on steroids than a playground for the Rat Pack. If it is possible to camouflage unbridled gambling and drinking to appear wholesome, the spin doctors of Vegas have done it. McDonald’s fits right in between the Paris and MGM casinos. You have to look closely to find a wedding chapel or an establishment advertising topless exotic dancers.
Ralph and I were quick to explain to everyone in South Carolina that we were visiting Las Vegas to attend my high school reunion, not to gamble. I had to hurry to clarify that I didn’t go to school there but overseas instead, and that Vegas was a destination venue rather than a pilgrimage to stoke the home fires.
I wasn’t that keen on looking up old boyfriends anyway, but wanted instead to promote my book, a memoir about high school days in the Philippines. So I hired a graphic artist to design a poster and a flyer to tote along on the plane.
The results were mixed. People seemed impressed that I was writing a book and were happy to reminisce with me, but I found we didn’t have the same memories! Why was I so surprised? I hadn’t realized that the Air Force base we lived on was large enough to provide such a rich diversity of experience. As I talked with people who remembered me and with many who didn’t, I frantically took notes.
On the red-eye flight back to South Carolina, I pondered whether to incorporate any of the stories I had heard into my tome. Abruptly I realized I am now faced with a new list of questions as I think about what to write: is my story just MY story, or is it really about a unique time and place? What’s more interesting, the things we all had in common there or the individual experiences that were different? At a distance of more than 40 years, can I trust my own recollections? And if I can’t, how significant are my own biases in relation to the purpose of the book? I thought I was nearly finished. Now I find I must start over.
Tom Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” He was right.