A Memory/In Memory: At the Sixth Biennial Urban History Association Conference at Columbia University Before Hurricane Sandy Hit the City

By Miguel Juárez

In October 2012, I attended the Sixth Biennial Urban History Association Conference at Columbia University in New York City.  I was scheduled to return on a Sunday, October 28th at 5:50 p.m.  I wanted to get to the airport early, so I arrived at La Guardia at 3 p.m.  When I got there, people were in a panic to get out.  I had tried booking an earlier flight the day before but flights on Southwest Airlines had been cancelled. The American Airlines customer service representative told me over the phone that I was “VERY LUCKY” to have an existing reservation with them. 


Session 37: “The Interstates, the Cities and Public Policy, with Mark Rose, Roger Biles, Edward Mueller, the late Raymond A. Mohl, Michael Fein and Owen Gutfreund. This was a fantastic session with leading scholars in highways and communities.

At the airport things changed for the worse, my 5:50 p.m. flight became a 6:50 p.m. flight, then a 7:35 p.m. flight, then 8:25 p.m., then 9:00 p.m., then 9:40 p.m.  This was going to be a BIG problem because public transportation was mandated to stop service at 7 p.m. and Taxis were mandated to stop service at 9 p.m.  All flights out of Newark Airport were cancelled.  JFK was in a similar situation as La Guardia.  At La Guardia, there were three flights back to Dallas after ours.  An attendant told me that almost every flight had 100 or more standbys. 

I coped with the situation by posting on social media and engaging with friends who suggested everything from renting a car and driving out to any city out west, to re-booking a flight to another city, to taking the train.  I think people had no idea of the severity of the situation, nor did the media, where most people were getting their information.  My friends were praying that I would be able to fly out.

I presented a paper titled: “Lincoln Park and the Creation of El Paso’s Chicano Park: El Corazón del Pueblo,” in Session 53, “Redevelop/Resist: Dilemmas of Renewal in Ethnic Neighborhoods,” chaired by Dr. Joseph Rodriguez, at the 2012 Sixth Biennial Urban History Association Conference.

As bleak as the situation seemed, I was banking on my flight. It seemed promising.  At about 7 p.m., an apologetic American Airlines attendant came on the microphone and announced that our 5:50 p.m. flight, #785 would be the last flight out of the airport and the rest of the flights had been cancelled. She added that the airport would close at 11:30 p.m. and that it would remain closed for the next two days.  When our plane arrived at 9 p.m., people cheered.  We left the airport at about 9:30 p.m. and landed in DFW close to midnight.  It was quite an experience.  I felt extremely lucky to have been on possibly one of the last flights out of La Guardia before Hurricane Sandy hit New York City.

Dr. Thomas Sugrue speaks to the remaining attendees at the Closing Plenary on Sunday, October 28th. There was a sense of urgency in the room.

After that day we learned that the number of flight cancellations was unreal, 1,833 on Sunday, 7,400 on Monday and more than 15,000 cancellations in all (but these numbers pale next to what is happening today).  I too, wondered about everyone else at the conference and especially about the other people, who had traveled there.  Still, I felt that year’s Urban History Association conference was transformational and I was glad I attended.  I had the opportunity to attend great sessions and heard a panel with the late Raymond A. Mohl, who passed away in 2015.

In Memoriam, Raymond A. Mohl (1939-2015),” Bruce and Gregory Mohl, May 1, 2015, Perspectives on History, American Historical Association, accessed May 8, 2020.

Dr. Juárez’s manuscript, “From Concordia to Lincoln Park, An Urban History of Highway Building in El Paso, Texas,” is currently under review for publication. His work presents the stories of the development of El Paso’s highways via the lens of the Lincoln Park community in South Central El Paso, Texas which experienced a process of rapid urbanization in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. You can e-mail him at: miguel@elpasonews.org