Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

No Pants Subway Ride 2012: The day when D.C. Metro riders wore no pants

January 9, 2012 - 12:30 PM
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Luckily the pantsless community is a peaceful one. 33 Photos
(Photo: John Hendel/TBD | Date: Jan. 08, 2011)

On Sunday, Jan. 8, a couple hundred Metro riders finally rebelled. Pants, these riders decided, were far too constraining, and they planned to simultaneously drop their while riding on the D.C. Metro system. People gathered, anxious, laughing, and ready to unveil, at Hancock Park next to L'Enfant Plaza Metro station yesterday afternoon at 2 p.m. I was there, and I was ready to lose my pants on the Metro, too, in the name of transit reporting.

The No Pants Subway Ride is now a global event, begun a decade ago thanks to the comedic geniuses of Improv Everywhere. Our local Capitol Improv helped spur on D.C.'s pantsless transit crusade, and shortly after 2 p.m., began a brief presentation about the No Pants protocol, which they'd stressed was all in good fun and shouldn't be too risque. The scores of riders were surprisingly diverse, with all ages and races represented and attracted by a Facebook event that sported hundreds of attendees. They carried bags and purses in which to stuff their soon-to-be-abandoned pants. But the sun was shining and the weather was astonishingly mild for a January afternoon. See photos of the gathering and subsequent ride here. The atmosphere contained no negativity and only a sense of fun and anticipation.

"This year's [No Pants Ride] is a little complicated due to the weekend track work," Capitol Improv's suited, tall Bruce Witzenburg announced before the ride. He and an associate held up a hand-drawn Metro map designating the popular transit stops and where single-tracking was happening. "The first train that you get on ... that's where you depants. I strong encourage you to take the tourist stops! Feel free to give the tourists a show!"

The crowd cheered and soon began a spontaneous march to L'Enfant Plaza.

"Woohoo!" people cheered as full lines of Metro riders stepped onto the escalators. "No pants!"

One Texan woman turned to a Metro Transit Police officer as we all headed to the platform. "You here for the show?" she asked with a smile. Others joked about how it was getting hot in here. Another rousing cheer began when a north-bound Metro train appeared.

Soon enough, the crowds of No Pants disciples pushed onto the train. They — and I, I confess — required little more than a minute after the doors closed to tear our pants from our legs, liberated and free and to the astonishment of all those around us. Shoes are surprisingly hard to remove when you're balancing yourself on the Metro ... but balance I did (barely). The tourist sitting next to me near the center of the car couldn't believe his eyes as he rested with his bag.

I estimate more than two dozen people removed their pants on this train car within about 45 seconds.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: John Hendel)

After the initial pantsless shock, the feeling was surprisingly refreshing. Why had riders worn pants all this time? The open air was comforting. My jeans were neatly stuffed in my messenger bag and I was ready to explore WMATA in boxers alone.

No Pants riders quickly moved through the system yesterday afternoon, to Gallery Place-Chinatown, to Metro Center, to the Smithsonian station, to Arlington Cemetery. People stared, yes, but generally received the No Pants crowd with cheer. Few should doubt the creativity of the event. People brought books to pretend-read. Some carried iPods or iPads. One man's black underwear proudly announced, in bold text, "i am without pants." Style of underwear varied, with plenty of boxers, some Victoria's Secret, and all sorts and colors represented. Shoes also varied, from slippers to boots to formal business shoes. At one point, a man and a woman realized they wore the same bluish underwear from Target and posed for a photo. The weekend track work had little bearing on the afternoon's success.

"Were you guys at Metro expecting this?" I asked a Metro Transit Police officer stationed on one of the platforms.

The big man nodded with a slight smile. Special units were deployed to monitor the platforms, although there didn't appear to be much need. No Pants Day doesn't strike me as particularly scandalous or controversial so much as the source of rider double takes. WMATA employees appeared to enjoy the spectacle as much as anyone, however, and an hour into the ride, I witnessed a L'Enfant station manager cracking up as she wandered the platform. A different transit cop remarked that there'd been one call so far from a Metro rider, someone who wanted to report all of the "naked people" traveling the Metro. Oh, the horror.

Yet most riders were curious. One man, only back in D.C. for an hour after traveling, found himself sitting next to a pantsless woman and couldn't stop grinning. "When's the after-party?" he asked. (Answer — Nellie's on U Street, late afternoon.)

"Why are you doing this?" an older woman asked a group of us.

No reason, the No Pants brigade explained. Simply fun and for reaction. Many laughed and liked the notion, some familiar with the no pants subway ride and some not. Others simply stared in confusion. A rare few didn't react at all. There's little to understand at an event like this, really. Why are people stripped of their pants? For the reaction and a laugh. Some may argue it's pointless but I see the virtue in a random event like this, however silly it may be. The crowds were hungry for something lively, something zany. For me there was little debate about whether to join in and participate. If I were covering this and talking about a No Pants Metro Ride, I wanted to see what the experience was like — and besides, it's 2012. Why not join an exhibitionist transportation event like this a week into the new year? Sure, there's little point, and yes, the Metro is not the most sanitary place (especially for the pantsless who dared sit down).

But comfort zones and formal causes are overrated. D.C., of all cities, needs to have its feathers ruffled every now and then. Bravo to the riders who started the new year right.


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