Boxer-briefs fluttering in the breeze, I stood in Hancock Park just across the street from L’Enfant Plaza awaiting the call to action. Capitol Improv was hosting the seventh annual No Pants Subway Ride, and on a brisk Sunday afternoon, a friend and I went to give it the old college try.
The No Pants Subway Ride began in 2002 as a prank by the notorious improvisational comedy group Improv Everywhere in New York. It quickly became a global phenomenon, with 60 cities in over 25 countries participating.
Here we stood, dressed in suits, sans pants: business casual in the truest sense imaginable. We brought carry-on luggage with us, planning to tell sadly uninformed Metro riders we had our pants confiscated on the way through security at Reagan National Airport. Joined by more than a hundred other pantsless people, we descended into the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station.
Walking around without pants in public conjures up some strange feelings. I felt like I should simultaneously be laughing with and apologizing to the people who were staring at me, or more specifically, staring at my pale, unevenly hairy legs. Metro officials, who had been alerted to the event ahead of time, looked on in mild amusement.
The diversity of the group surprised me even more. There was a broad range of age groups and ethnic backgrounds, represented in the people standing around without pants in a Metro station. I would find it hard to believe that this wasn’t a revealing experience for most of us: sharing a laugh and raising eyebrows together. Viewed as voyeurism by some and exhibitionism by others (it’s all about perspective, right?), the No Pants Subway Ride is community-building in all its half-naked glory.
Our train arrived and we stepped on. There were laughter, double-takes, a mixture of stares and averted eyes. A few people laughed off our story, joking with us and asking for pictures. One woman cursed us all for riding around in public, “with our butt cheeks hanging out on the Lord’s Day,” during flu season. My friend Jack even had a personal request to show a little more skin.
We met up with another group of underwear-clad pranksters and decided to take the show upstairs. Walking between Metro Center and Gallery Place, we braved the elements, ignored the jeers, and embraced the catcalls from Washington Capitols fans on their way to the game. I’m surprised we didn’t cause an accident.
After parting ways with our new friends, Jack and I caught a train to Dupont Circle and checked out some pictures from the day. Putting my pants back on, I was warmed not only by the high thread count of the slacks but also by the friendships we built and the exposing experience as a whole.
To walk the streets and ride the subway trains of Washington D.C. without pants is to liberate oneself from social norms, but it’s also testament to how simple events without a definite cause can bring people together in solidarity. There were plenty more laughs and smiles than looks of disgust, more skin shown and less of ourselves hidden from each other.
No, there is no overarching cause being championed, though many chose their own to address, but there are people making other people happy at a time when the glass isn’t always half-full. We shared in an incredible experience unparalleled by anything I’ve ever done in my life, and it was legal. How often can you say that?
I’m 90 percent sure the two of us will end up on someone’s Christmas card or family photo album next year, and I couldn’t be more proud. It was daring, it was fun, it was spontaneous and come next year, I’ll be doing it again. There’s no need to plan anything, we sure didn’t.
One could say we flew by the seat of our pants. Sorry. I had to.