By Jefferson Siegel
Casual Friday was one-upped by pantless Saturday last weekend as scores of people doffed their trousers to ride the subway.
The common fashion thread was boxers for men, panties for the ladies. Trend-breakers included one young man sporting bright pink panties and several ladies in mens boxer shorts. (Note to fashionistas: argyle socks are back!)
The No Pants! Subway Ride was organized by Improv Everywhere, a group responsible for such recent missions as walking through a Home Depot in slow-motion and placing a tuxedoed bathroom attendant in a McDonalds restaurant.
Late Saturday afternoon 200 people gathered in Foley Sq. for a final briefing by organizer Charlie Todd, whose instructions boiled down to, Everybody should be here because you want to take your pants off!
Participants were told not to break character and act as though there was nothing unusual about underwear chic. I wear two pairs of underpants, Todd said as advice to the potentially shy.
With a military precision that belied any hint of improvisation, the crowd was broken up into 10 groups, each one led into the City Hall subway station by a team leader. The plan was to ride consecutive subway trains, with several people losing their leggings as they got on and off subsequent trains.
The front car of the normally quiet Uptown No. 6 local took on the appearance of a weekday rush hour as it filled with the improv agents. No one talked as the clothing subversives either read, listened to iPods or stared off into space.
As the courthouses, Chinatown and Little Italy passed by above ground, the first flash of underwear appeared underground. At the Canal St. station, a young lady in a striped rugby shirt slipped her jeans over her Keds sneakers and stuffed them into a shoulder bag, then returned to reading a book, the Chinese letters tattooed on her upper thigh blending into short black panties. No one in the car acknowledged the de-pantsing.
Nearby, two men stepped out of shoes and slipped off trousers, one baring red boxers adorned with fish, the other in boxer briefs decorated with galaxies of stars. There were no smirks, no guffaws, no challenges of you first, no, you first. One young lady handed her copy of Atlas Shrugged to a friend, slipped off her jeans, and the two exited at Bleecker St.
By now crowds of Saturday travelers had started filling the train. As more semi-dressed riders mixed with their clothed counterparts, it slowly became apparent that something was going on.
As the stations passed more people de-pantsed and detrained. Eight people left the train at 28th St., including Lower East Side resident Briana Lutz, looking fetching in an orange plaid coat, cowboy boots and little else.
I am a big supporter of improv comedy, Lutz said, breaking character momentarily. Asked what reaction she had experienced during the ride, Lutz noted that, One guy had one of those cell-phone cameras out and may have taken a picture of my crotch.
Im not worried about it, she added, reinserting her earbuds to listen to the music of Broken Social Scene. Nearby, Harlem resident Rebecca, in a denim jacket, black underwear and knee-length black socks, perused a newspaper, oblivious to several men who had just swiped their MetroCards and stood, mouths agape.
The octet boarded the next Uptown local. Surprised passengers did a double-take and then looked away, but one persistent youngster tried to get to the bottom of things.
What happened to your pants? he asked incredulously. I forgot them at home, replied a straight-faced man in a business jacket and leather shoes. Receiving similar responses from other pantsless commuters, the child plaintively wailed, Whats going on here?
When the train reached 42nd St./Grand Central, it was too crowded to really notice the profusion of bare legs unless they stood right in front of you. All players remained in character throughout the ride. One bearded medical student wearing a blue shirt and tie sat studying a textbook on EKGs for an upcoming exam.
The ruse continued as the mass slowly accumulated at the halfway point, the 125th St. station. An elderly man approached one, then another, asking, Wheres the party? Wheres the party? One pantsless yuppie, acting indignant at the barrage of questions, looked up from his magazine and proclaimed, We have a right to be undressed!
The 200 pairs of liberated legs proceeded to fill a Downtown train for the ride back to Foley Sq. On the train, a police officer asked Rutgers student Boris Khaykin what you guys were protesting. I dont know what you mean by you guys, the bare-legged Khaykin replied, as if he didnt know any of the other players, adding, Im absent-minded.
As Downtown approached, the crowd slowly loosened up and started talking amongst themselves. One couple, sitting pantsless across from each other, discussed their evening plans. Two bare-legged students debated anthropology. At Grand Central, a young man sporting a bright orange mohawk haircut boarded the train, looked around and yelled, What the hell is going on? By the next stop, bare legs seemed as normal as his tresses.
Unlike last years excursion, when eight trouser-challenged riders were arrested for disorderly conduct (a judge later threw out the charges, noting theres no law against walking around in underwear), this year there were no reports of police dressing down any of the participants.