Hundreds of young exhibitionists, pranksters, and flash-mob enthusiasts, assembled at Foley Square in the financial district on a chilly Saturday afternoon for the seventh annual "No Pants" subway ride.
The “mission” organizers, Improv Everywhere, estimated that 900 people turned out for the event, which seems like a stretch, unless the head count includes the random people who reportedly joined the pantless passengers by disrobing along the way.
Charlie Todd, the head of Improv Everywhere, addressed the exuberant twenty-something hipsters in the crowd through a megaphone, urging them to keep a straight face while riding and not let on that they know other pantless riders.
“Obviously this isn’t a secret anymore… Its not just me and six of my college buddies pulling a prank.. It’s more of a parade,” he told the cheering throng surrounding the black statue in the center of the square. “But to maintain the integrity of the parade, we’d really like people to think we just forgot our pants… The joke is that we forgot our pants so don’t do anything lewd.”
As Mr. Todd spoke, several stragglers ran to the square carrying backpacks as instructed. He gave a shout out to the two NYPD officers escorting the pantless subway riders, who shook their heads in amusement.
“It’s something different,” one of the policemen said charitably, when I asked if he was excited about accompanying the boisterous group.
Most of the “No pants 2k8” participants were first timers, who had never ridden the subway in their underwear before, or at least not planned to.
“Is this the first time I’ve been pantless on the subway? No. But is it is the first time I’ve done it officially? Yes,” said a Jessie, a 22-year-old Rutgers student, wearing a pair of pink boy shorts from American Apparel that she had purchased for a “special undie event” earlier that year.
Why would hundreds of people want to take off their clothes on the subway?
“Why not,” asked Jessie.
She was accompanied by her friend Anne, wearing what she described as “unseasonal” candy corn boxer shorts, and Cynthia, who chose a set of “granny panties—because I’m not seeing anyone right now and they are comfortable.”
Audrey, 28, came with a group of friends in response to a post on the social networking site Yelp.
“I was so in. The pillow fight in Union Square last year was the highlight of my year,” she said in reference to another Improv Everywhere prank.
Like many of the female participants, Audrey also wore American Apparel boy shorts (pink with polka dots), and said she was looking forward to seeing some leopard print underwear and some tighty-whities.
“I spent $120 on a no pants outfit,” offered her friend—wearing the same underwear. (American Apparel should consider sponsoring the event next year.) “I had to find sneakers that looked good with underwear, and then I bought thigh-highs, and the boyshorts,” she said.
This reporter boarded the six train while other groups dispersed on the R and 2 trains, and despite wearing two layers of underwear, I did not in the end, de-pant.
I would have felt more guilty, but most of the dozen pantless riders in my car giggled the whole ride up to Union Square. One man in white boxers listened intently to his I-pod and stared at the ceiling as he struggled to contain himself. A couple held hands casually and attempted to read the newspaper.
In typical, jaded New Yorker fashion, most of the subway riders averted their eyes. A few laughed. One man gripped his son’s hand tightly and boarded a different car at the next stop.
Pants or no pants, in the end, Saturday was just another day in the city.