You never know what you will learn when you take off your pants, especially in public.
I’ve actually learned a lot with my pants down, but these are stories for another time. Most recently I learned that dropping trou on the subway with thousands of other New Yorkers can lead to broadened horizons, new friendships, and a random Austrian dude that crashes on your couch and cooks you typical Austrian lunches…
The No Pants Subway Ride is an annual event staged by Improv Everywhere, an improvisational theater group in New York. For the past 14 years, the group has called together adventurous New Yorkers to take their pants off and ride the subway. They put on the gag as a way to bring a touch of silliness to the dreary, post-holiday winter when New Yorkers are about ready to up and leave. The idea behind No Pants is simple: Random passengers board a subway car at separate stops in the middle of winter without pants. The participants behave as if they do not know each other, and all wear winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. The only unusual thing is their lack of pants. The whole shebang ends in Union Square with a massive pants-less party. Seemed like a good way to spend a Sunday.
But the day of the event I was overcome with anxiety:
1. I didn’t know anyone else doing this, and my usual partner in crime was sending me texts saying, “so…how badly do you want to do this?” There was a very real chance I’d have to do it alone.
2. It was freezing.
After some slight coercion (I promised her a free drink), we were off to Bushwick, one of the six meet-up points scattered throughout New York for participants. Upon seeing the sizable group of people at the meeting point, my insides began to uncoil. In fact, plenty were solo. Who knew a group of people willing to get half naked in public would be extroverts?
After some minor organization, the group set off for the Jefferson Street station. Each of us was designated a specific stop at which to take our pants off, all the while not acknowledging each other or onlookers. After taking your pants off on the train, you exited at the following station and waited for the next train to arrive. The idea was to have us all end up on the same train and arrive at Union Square as a giant, naked collective.
We all boarded the train, and each took up with our typical MTA rituals – some pulled out headphones, others took out Kindles. One fellow unwrapped a sandwich. As soon as the doors shut, the first brave soul silently undid his belt, kicked off his shoes and pulled his jeans down to reveal faded orange boxers. Without so much as a smile he folded up his jeans and stuck them in his backpack, re-laced his sneakers and continued to bop his head to whatever was playing on his iPod.
“OH NO HE DIDN’T!”
“Nuh huh bro, not on my f*cking subway.”
Let the games begin. I watched as people one by one began following his brave lead. When it was finally my turn I slid my sweatpants down to my ankles, slipped them over my sneakers and took a seat. Legs crossed, I opened my book and pretended to focus on the words on the page instead of who exactly was judging my goose-fleshed thighs. But the deed was done. The only thing separating my ass from the subway seat was a pair of neon purple panties. And honestly? It felt pretty sweet.
When we reached Union Square, us bare bottom-halvers all exited the train and climbed the steps toward the plaza. Waves of naked legs poking out from heavy overcoats flowed up the steps. Cops tried to keep straight faces as pants-less hooligans twerked up against them. Outside the station, under a gray, freezing sky, people danced, hugged, and conga-lined around the main square. The party pulsed with high energy and excitement at having banded together to do something a little off kilter.
Already without pants for about an hour, I was growing fond of my new skin. Some of us had become quite close over the course of the adventure and we decided to take the party down 14th Street to 2nd Avenue. Still in our skivvies, we walked from Union Square – an international conglomerate of bare legs, turned purple and swollen from the cold. Whether native New Yorkers, Argentinians, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, Polish, or Austrians, we spent the next four hours in a whiskey-induced haze, taking undie selfies and talking about this wonderful city that brought us together to toast to pants-less friendship. In a blur of Fireball shots I even offered up my apartment to Rupert, the nomadic Austrian looking for a couch to surf for the next few days before he flew home to Vienna.
I’ve always had a fear of being left in the unknown, exposed and vulnerable. But once your “pants come off,” an adventure certainly begins. Maybe you move to a new city. Maybe you end a bad relationship. Maybe you quit your desk job and write stories about your experiences at a sex club. Or maybe it is just as literal as taking your pants off on the subway and making new friends. Whichever it is you fear most, do it. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn, but as I sit here taking another bite of palatschinke, I bet you it will lead someplace awesome.