This dark labyrinth city was a city of some other things before. It was a city of grass and a subterranean city of prairie grass roots (weighing more than a forest of full-grown trees). A city of birds honked off in the vast swamps and congested the dunes with their traffic. The land would burn regularly, rejuvenating the grasses and smiting their enemies the trees. So for millennia it was a city of smoke — the pioneers knew the region by its blue haze, puffed into the horizon by huge fires blowing through the combustible land.
Once it was a city of wood. The archeologist of the future will kneel in the city’s ruin and not read signs of this city, Old Chicago, Chicago One (ordinal to the Second City) — the city of before the fire of 1871. The places that 300,000 people knew as home are entirely vanished from the place today. Old Chicago does live, but as a mute ghost in a loud city that does not abide ghosts.
Now when people think of the city, they think of buildings– it is a city of stone buildings. The city is wealthy with buildings, most of them dreamed up and built by people long out of the picture. The buildings make an inheritance from people of the past that rolls down generations, as inherently valuable to modern people as the ideal cave would be to the people of pre-history. The exteriors of buildings symbolize the city; the shape of the skyline makes a word for the city. But the exteriors of the buildings more truly symbolize the interiors of buildings. The interior of the building is where the city really happens, and on a scale that overwhelms imagination.
It is a city of rooms. For generations the people have been building rooms and traveling back and forth, from one set of rooms to the other — a certain number of rooms available to each person, one room seemingly not so different from another room. The people have been buying their way into some rooms and working their ways into others. They have been searching to find certain rooms. Sometimes they have accidentally found themselves in the wrong room — and why shouldn’t they, living amid a backdrop of so many millions of wrong rooms?