Ten years ago, my family reluctantly decided to kiss Detroit goodbye and move to Chicagoland for a job opportunity we couldn’t turn down. We scouted neighborhoods guided by a list given to me by a friend and former Michigander. She had made a similar move a couple of years before and ultimately chose to put down roots in Oak Park. Since we knew at least one family in Oak Park, we made our way there first.
Just like that we were off on the hunt for a brand new life.
Before I knew it, we were driving wide-eyed through Oak Park where lovely old homes lined street after tree-lined street. We had two small kids in tow and they were getting a bit anxious in the backseat. We knew our informal architectural tour couldn’t last much longer and we popped into the Buzz Cafe for lunch. Walking into the vibrant and artful cafe, I felt immediately connected to it without having eaten a bite or taken a sip of coffee. After we ordered, my husband ushered our kids to the little play area at the back of the Buzz — it was brimming with books and some well-loved toys.
I stayed at the table for a few moments of peace.
As I scanned the coffee shop, I noticed people excitedly greeting each other and old friends embracing as lively chatter electrified the room. Suddenly, I became emotional; this move was hard for me. I already loved my community back in Detroit. There, I was the person bumping into neighbors everywhere I went. I hugged my friends on the street. I knew all the gossip and goings-on. Why was I leaving that? I had my people already.
When my family returned to the table, I had my sunglasses down to hide my watery eyes. My husband threw me a strange look as I’m not typically a “wear my sunglasses inside” kind of person. I covertly explained I was “having a moment” and I didn’t want the littles to know.
Our whole goal was to get the kids excited about our big move and here I was getting cold feet in the middle of a colorful cafe.
Our teenage waiter, with a style befitting the funky eclecticism of the The Buzz’s decor, quietly began bringing us our food. To this day, I have no idea if she overheard a bit of our conversation or if she was just being friendly, but she asked us what brought us to Buzz Cafe. My husband told her we were thinking of moving to Oak Park and we were checking out the neighborhood. Her response is pretty much why we ended up here — and I almost remember it verbatim:
“I grew up here, but I’m about to go to college. Your kids will love running up and down these streets. They will love the parks, and the block parties and pools and the schools. I have had the best childhood.”
I moved my sunglasses back to the top of my head and started smiling. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. Suddenly, I knew my family could make the move and everything would be OK; in fact, it might just be the best!
We’ve lived in the village of Oak Park since 2009, and we’re surprised we’ve never run into our waiter again. My husband and I joke we may have dreamed her up; maybe she was a much-needed, shared hallucination (or a folie à deux if you’re fancy). All these years later we warmly refer to her as our Oak Park angel. After we left the restaurant we took a couple of exploratory jaunts to check out other Chicagoland areas, but we both knew Oak Park was going to be our new home.
We ended up finding a house in the Arts District just down the block from The Buzz. During the first week of school, I went there with a group of moms who, like me, were new to Oak Park. We savored coffee, breakfast, and the chance to get to know one another. Nine years on, many of these moms are now my good-old friends and the Buzz Cafe has become our hub. I don’t think I’ve ever walked back in that place without a neighbor saying hello or a friend surprising me with a hug.
Missy Badynee, a home cook, mother of two teens, and native Michigander has thoroughly enjoyed living in Oak Park for nearly a decade.