THIS IS A PARTICIPATORY EVENT. DO NOT SHOW UP UNLESS YOU PLAN TO TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF. THIS INCLUDES NEWS MEDIA.
HAIRY LEGS AND ALL: Our reporter (center) reads the paper, trying to forget he is pants-less.
That message, posted on a Facebook event page, must have furrowed the brow of many a features writer assigned to cover this past Saturday’s “No Pants 2K8” Boston T-Ride. The project, organized by the local arm of the NYC-based group of public pranksters called Improv Everywhere, was as simple as it was pointless: take off your pants and ride the subway in your underwear.
The Facebook post posed a journalistic quandary they don’t cover in J-school: do you drop trou and get the story or do you chicken out and miss it? Ultimately, I decided on the former tack — partly, yes, for the sake of journalism; partly because the event sounded enjoyable.
As I walked up the Alewife T station stairs, I was met by a jovial crowd of mostly students and random twentysomethings. The majority were dressed inconspicuously, though a handful did wear suits or costumes. Adam Sablich, of Improv Everywhere’s Boston chapter, announced our route — Alewife to Park Street, then on to Kenmore, and back — via bullhorn, then divided us into groups of 15 to 20.
When our train came, I boarded the second car with Group Two, and took a seat next to a friendly Asian couple. A woman and I tried to figure out when exactly we were supposed to de-pants. We decided to take our cues from our team leader, a clean-cut, smiley guy named Chris, who was sitting nearby. That settled, I dug through my bag for a newspaper and attempted to pass the time. Needless to say, I retained nothing.
People’s pants started coming off some time after we pulled into Davis Square. I tried to appear nonchalant, mouthing the words to a Chris Brown song while I went to work. As I stuffed my jeans into my bag, I had an absurd thought that made me laugh out loud. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if bystanders started dropping their pants instinctively? They didn’t, of course. Instead, they just looked on, wide-eyed and baffled.
Later, sitting on the train in my underwear, I was photographed by not one, but two fully clothed photographers. I felt a little cheated. What happened to the rule about media having to participate? My thoughts were soon interrupted by a conversation between a cop and nearby passenger, who commented that what we were doing was “disgusting,” and asked if this was something “they’re doing now.” The cop replied that she thought it was a yearly event. “It’s been peaceful so far,” she added. “Look at all that hair,” the passenger remarked. To which the cop cracked, “He could use a wax, huh?”
I winced when I realized they were discussing my legs.
Apart from that guy, though, everybody seemed to get a kick out of us. A few even seemed to have abandoned their own destinations to follow the pants-free crowd. On our way back to Alewife, one rider asked if we were protesting something, which seemed to be a popular theory among people wearing pants. We deflected these questions — we’d been told, if pressed, to say things like “I was getting uncomfortable” or “I forgot them.”
Nearing the end of the line, one of my compatriots asked if I’d take a picture of him without pants. “That’s the first time anyone has ever asked me that,” I joked. Then I took his picture.
My thoughts returning to those fully-clothed photographers, I considered for a moment whether I had dropped my pants for naught. I decided this was not the case. What we had done was silly, but you can’t say it was without interesting results. Gone for a few hours was the dreary humdrum of commuting. In its place a weird, unscripted, exciting alternative. Note to self: consider a leg wax soon.