West Side Stories

A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.

Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.

Where Were You?


Ten years ago on September 11th, I was going through a major life transition. Just the day before, I had given notice to my employer of 17+ years that I was retiring to be a stay-at-home mom, full-time. Because I loved my job, it was a tough choice and so I was still reeling a bit on that crisp, fall morning.

And then, the world fell apart.

My office on 9/11 was next to the company conference room. I heard people gathered around the television which was very unusual. I remember getting up from my chair, walking around the corner and looking through the glass wall of the conference room. There, on television, was a building on fire. Bit by bit, we were given information – World Trade Center, New York, full of people, a plane crashed into the building….and then the other plane struck…while we watched. More information came via television and phone calls from my co-workers’ families – some of it incorrect. Then we heard about the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. Then the word that all planes were grounded.

I remember going into my office to try to get to the CNN website. The site was down at some moments and eerily still at others. This was clearly a world event and the internet was apparently unaware. Little did I know that New York news outlets were barely keeping up with the barrage of information. It was almost more than they could handle.

As the day wore on, the world seemed strangely silent. I remember having two related thoughts: 1) We are at war and are being attacked. 2) Is this how our parents felt during Pearl Harbor? Our world, in which we had a false sense of security, would never be the same.

Those of us in Milwaukee felt helpless and so it made sense that the only thing we could do was show respect through quiet. Our office was quiet. Driving around during the next week, I remember that traffic was quiet – nobody honked. People were polite, letting cars go ahead of them in traffic lanes without cutting them off. It didn’t even seem like people were speeding. Everyone was just stunned.

I remember a call for blood donations for the victims. That was before we found out that few got out alive.

And then came the patriotism. If this was war, we were going to join together. Virtually every house displayed an American flag. I remember getting choked up as my kids, then 9 and 13, together took our flag and put it up outside our house. Little by little, people started adorning their cars and clothing with American flags. For the first time in a long time, there weren’t political parties – we were all Americans – thrown together by horrific tragedy.

I wasn’t much for daytime television, but I remember having the news channels on all the time. I think I was trying to wrap my head around what was happening. I’m still not sure I’ve done that. Prior to 9/11, my only experiences with war were the Vietnam War during which I was too young to understand and Operation Desert Storm which seemed more like a television mini-series the way it was televised and seemingly short.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since 9/11. Everything has changed – the way we travel, the way we collect news, the way we look at life. On the one hand, I'd like to think we take less for granted. On the other hand, I’m afraid we trust each other less and less.

Growing up, I remember people would ask each other: “Where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?” That seemed to be the seminal point in my parents’ generation – the time when the unthinkable occurred.

Today, the question is: “Where were you on the morning of 9/11?” My hope is that my children’s generation doesn’t have to have a new question like that.


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