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Yesterday, for the fifth time in five years, the group Improv Everywhere performed their celebrated hipster prank, the "No Pants Subway Ride."
It was also the first time the practical joke backfired, ending dramatically at the 59th Street stop of the 6 train, when a confused police officer boarded the train, saw the spectacle, and called for backup. While pants were quickly handed out, the officer stopped the train, ordered all the riders to exit, and eventually arrested six of the pranksters--the unfortunate few who had been unable to locate their britches in time. One of those arrested was Erin McCarson, 23, a nanny, who was handcuffed and led to a police wagon, while her friend, Mamrie Hart, 22, collected Erin's pants and wondered what to do next.
Earlier in the day, the two had gathered at Foley Square downtown with the other riders. This was McCarson's second go at the no-pants ride. Hart was a novice. Childhood friends from North Carolina, they said they weren't nervous.
They were put into a group of about 25 people who boarded the train's front car. McCarson wore skin-colored running shorts, black underwear, and orange and white tennis socks. Passengers seemed more confused by the phalanx of journalists following them than by the spectacle of pantless young people.
One woman asked, "What is this, a television show?"
"No, I guess we all just forgot our pants," one of the pranksters said.
At the 59th Street stop, an officer on the platform instructed the conductor to halt the train. He then boarded, asking, "What is this? What's going on?" He began approaching people without their pants and telling them to get off the train. The officer lined them up by the wall in the station and next ordered all passengers off the train. Frustrated commuters headed for the exit. A few moments later, the train left the station, empty.
By then, nearly a dozen police officers had arrived at the station. A half hour later, the six who had been singled out were handcuffed and led up the stairs to the street, where they were placed in vans and taken to a nearby precinct.
They were charged with disorderly conduct and released later that evening.
"My little wrists were a little bruised," McCarson said, of the effects of being handcuffed for several hours. She said the officers who arrested her seemed confused by what exactly was going on. "They kept asking me what I was protesting."
The prank's organizer, Charlie Todd, said he was upset over what happened, with six arrests and two citations. "I think it's unfortunate that the police felt the need to stop the train. I'm upset that eight of my participants will have to go to court over a frivolous matter," he said. "It was our goal to bring a little comedy to the subway and it seemed everyone who encountered us was having a good time until one officer freaked out and decided to stop the train."
He insisted, however, that yesterday's outcome would not dissuade him from future No Pants Subway Rides. "It will happen next year one way or another. I may have to be more secretive about it, but there's nothing illegal about wearing boxers on the subway."
He'll have at least one willing participant. Despite being hauled off to jail and facing a fine or community service, McCarson says she plans to bare her legs again.