“If you didn’t come to take your pants off, you do not belong here.” Such was the refrain Agent Alex crowed
through the megaphone this past Sunday as one of the “captains” at the
Bushwick kickoff to Improv Everywhere’s No Pants Subway Ride. Going for
nine years running and spanning 42 cities in 15 different countries,
the ride has become a cherished tradition for urbanites undeterred by
those somewhat related bogeymen of cold temperatures and cruel, cruel
mockery. As Alex stated through the megaphone, “It’s not a secret prank
anymore… it’s a parade at this point.” Don’t tell that to the cops.
a brief debriefing in Bushwick Park (just one of many jump-off points
around the city), the crowd marched towards the DeKalb L station. “We
do culture jamming,” explained one Improv-er as he walked, “pushing
convention and mashing up performance art with everyday reality. I
don’t usually wear underwear; I had to put it on for this.” He strongly
suggested I take my pants off to get the full participatory experience.
attendees were surprisingly diverse; in addition to the prerequisite
theater kids (dressed, for the most part, how a 20-yearold McKibben
lofts resident imagines grownups with real jobs might dress), there
were some older folks and a decent scattering of regs looking to do
something “wacky.” “I wanted to participate in a trademark New York
event,” one norm-ish fellow said. You hear that, culture-jammers?
Once onboard, the “agents” de-pantsed in groups
and continued to ride like everything was normal, reading, staring into
space and ignoring the man with a stump for an arm begging for change.
Like real actors, some weren’t too natural, bopping along to their
headphones a shade too hard or flipping through their newspapers too
emphatically. Though the occasional rider shielded his eyes from all
that hairy man-leg or switched cars only to find more of the same, most
ignored them completely.
Once all the rides had converged in
Union Square, a pantsless powwow ensued. People sang songs, did the
conga, and cheered at random intervals. An Andrew W.K. doppelganger
climbed the George Washington statue to much applause. A group of
missionaries passed out pro-pants literature, while some
Pantsentologists hawked “Free Pants Tests.” “Who is not wearing pants
who needs pants?” asked one. “Not the girls!” a male bystander replied.
I haven’t seen a group of people this psyched about not wearing pants
since the last time I went to Van Dam.
A group of pantsless
teens made me suddenly concerned there might be perverts about. Did
their parents know what they were doing? “They said if I was getting
arrested, this is the one thing I could get arrested for,” a
floppy-haired boy replied. But wasn’t he afraid of catching cold?
“Sometimes it gets hotter when you take your pants off… it’s the
excitement!” Back underground, the pantsless crowded the station in
unbelievable numbers. A cop posed for a picture with two panty-clad
ladies.Was everything going OK? “So far, so good,” he grinned. The
leader of a drowned-out jazz band was less enthused, summing up the
event’s main idea as he grumbled, “Maybe if we took our pants off, we’d
get more attention.”