“What’s going on?”
“They are going to catch a cold.”
“Mum? Mum? Underwear [points and giggles]. No pants.”
“It’s for some type of fraternity. What else would make you humiliate yourself like that?”
“Only in New York!”
You might think there’s not enough Purell in the universe to get you to sit pantless in a New York City train, but about 3,000 participants in the city’s annual No Pants Subway Ride did just that on Sunday. Hosted by the self-described “prank collective” Improv Everywhere, the event attracted participants as old as 80 and as young as 19 to brave the 37-degree weather in their skivvies. This year the pantless riders assembled at seven points across the city, from Williamsburg to Astoria, before converging at the 14th Street Union Square station.
Visitors from as far away as Miami, China, and Austria took part in the pants takedown. Nina Weissenboeck, an Austrian spending a year in the United States, left an inquirer at a subway stop dumbfounded when she deadpanned, “I didn’t feel like wearing pants today.”
One prominent Manhattan meeting point was Foley Square, where hundreds gathered to receive instructions from Improv Everywhere’s founder, Charlie Todd. He stressed mainly two things to the soon-to-be barelegged faithful: Take off your pants, and keep a straight face (and don’t cause any trouble, lest they attract New York’s finest). He added that, when asked why they were strutting around in their underthings, they should feign surprise or indifference.
Even while thrusting their tushies, clad in an assortment of unmentionables, for flashing cameras and smartphones, most pantless riders admit they only dare to do this as part of a group. One of the oldest in the group, 80-year-old No Pants regular John Reynolds, said he got separated from his group one year and had to endure people giving him the “evil eye.”
Todd started the prank in 2002 with six other friends, and it has since grown into a gathering of people of all colors, shapes, and (ahem) butt sizes. The event now takes place in over 50 cities around the world, from Bangalore to Budapest. “I’m not sure what unifies everyone other than a desire to do something a little out of the ordinary and have a bit of silly fun,” he says. In its fourteen-year history, the event has had only one run-in with the cops, in 2006, when eight participants were charged with disorderly conduct and given summonses, but a judge dismissed all the charges, as it is not illegal to be in your underwear in New York City (the Naked Cowboy can attest to this). “Since then the NYPD has been nothing but supportive,” Todd says.
Besides extolling silliness, Todd hopes he has given someone out there a story to tell or at least a reason to stop and notice the world around them.