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That Time I Rode The NYC Subway…Without Pants [Photo Essay]

Last Sunday, I did something I can honestly say I’ve never done — and never thought I’d do — before: rode the subway in New York City…pants-less. That’s right. On a crowded subway car heading from Brooklyn to Manhattan, in the dead of winter, I wore a sweater, jacket, hat, gloves, scarf and underwear, sans pants.

Did I get a lot of stares? Yes.

Did anyone ask me why I wasn’t wearing pants? You bet.

Would I do it again? Hell yeah!

So what was I doing on public transportation half nude? Let me explain.

It all started in August 2001, when a man named Charlie Todd decided he wanted to start causing scenes — the title of his book is “Causing A Scene” — around New York City. He founded Improv Everywhere, a New York City-based prank collective that causes enjoyable disturbances in public spaces, often inciting shrieks of laughter and good natured chaos (and sometimes an arrest or two). To date, Improv Everywhere has executed over 100 missions — from wearing black tie attire to the beach to having a stunt performer jump off a 20-story Manhattan building — involving tens of thousands of “undercover agents.”

I decided 2015 would be my year to join in on the fun. My day began with brunch with some fellow travelers, Anna of The Legendary Adventures of Anna, Jeremy of TravelFREAK and Jeff of the awesome NYC travel app, New York City Essential Guide. We met at Harefield Road (769 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn) for some $13 dollar brunch entree-with-coffee-and-a-cocktail action, relaxing our nerves before the big event.

As they only let you sit at tables when dining, we were then advised to go to their sister bar, Matt Torrey’s (46 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn) which, side note, had the most budget-friendly weekend brunch in NYC, with FREE bagels, $4 brunch cocktails and $6 well drinks. Spacious, rustic and cheap.

no pants subway ride
no pants subway ride
no pants subway ride
no pants subway ride
no pants subway ride

But I digress.

After we’d filled up on liquid courage — just enough to get okay with the idea of disrobing in front of the general population — and made our way to the nearest meeting point, which in our case was Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick. Here, we were assigned our groups and given instructions.

The event isn’t a mad rush of streakers, but more of a flash mob-style social experiment. While everyone meeting at this park in particular would be riding the L Line, we’d all be de-pantsing in different cars and at different times, acting as if we did not know each other. We were to wear what we normally would on a cold winter day — a coat, scarf, hat mittens, boots — and act as we always would on the subway, reading a book or listening to our iPods. At our assigned points, we would casually start taking off our pants, keeping a straight face and being cautious not to act as if anything was out of the ordinary (including taking photos with your DSLR, which is why most of these photos are not from the actual subway ride. Sorry guys!).

no pants subway ride
Anna and I in Maria Hernandez Park, getting our no pants assignments.

Personally, I was curious to see if anybody even had a reaction. NYC subway mentality is typically to keep to yourself and not pay attention to the oddities going on around you. And there are a lot. From dead sharks on the floor to women selling bowties made out of cat hair (yes, I’ve seen this), the NYC is not foreign to weird occurrences.

Would a no pants subway ride be enough to grab local attention?

After doing it myself, I will say I was a lot more comfortable stripping on the subway than I thought I’d be. It was a bit awkward taking off my boots and squeezing out of my tight leggings, especially when I had to kind of lift my leg to get them unstuck off my calf, but once settled on the seat, carefully placing my coat down so no bare butt cheat was touching any plastic, I calmly read my book without worry.

no pants subway ride
Our group after the subway ride — with no pants!
no pants subway ride
no pants subway ride
no pants subway ride

There were a few snickers, and some people did have questions and concerns (aren’t you cold without pants?!), but for the most part, telling people I was simply uncomfortable wearing pants and wanted to take them off seemed like a legitimate reason.

Until we got off the subway in Union Square. Here, the station was even more chaotic than usual.

Amidst jazz bands and a “dead” performance artist laying in “blood” on the subway floor, there were hundreds of us scantily clad winter riders — and lots of tourists and news crews (and weirdos) wanting to snap photos. While I didn’t mind poising for photos when people asked, I’ll admit I was annoyed when over-eager looking guys started shoving their iPhones in my face butt. Luckily, Jeff and Jeremy were great at fending them off (plus I had my long coat for cover, and would recommend this to any women not wanting their bottoms in any creepo’s photo albums).

The real fun took place in Union Square above ground where in the stark chill of winter day a large group of equally stark people formed a conga line, sang and danced (and offered free hugs, as seen below).

no pants subway ride
no pants subway ride
no pants subway ride

When it got too cold, we moved the pants-less party to a nearby hangout, Crocodile Lounge (325 East 14th Street, Manhattan), where with every drink you get a free pizza. Possibly NYC’s worst meal, but hey, it’s free and my strong whiskey and cokes were only $5 each.

no pants subway ride

Sound like a fun offbeat NYC experience? Lucky for you it’s an annual event, and you can follow Improv Everywhere on Twitter (@ImprovEvery) to stay up to date on this and other zany local events. If you do it next year let me know, as I’ll also be returning, not because I’m obsessed with being half nude (although it was liberating!) but because it’s good cheap fun (just a $2.50 subway ride!) with really awesome people. I mean, you have to be a pretty free-spirited adventurous person to agree to do something like this, which I found to be more fact than stereotype.

Would you ride the NYC subway pants-less?

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

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  1. Jørgen Kronborg Hansen on at 1:58 pm

    No, not unless i had to for some reason. But i might go in the other direction and “dress out,” like wearing extrem excess of winter clothes, so that i would almost take up the whole space in the train compartment and people had to push me to get me outside the door again – that could be funny, looking like the fat man in the Monty Python restaurant scene 🙂

    • jess2716 on at 8:52 pm

      @Jorgen: Oh gosh. I just had the wildest image in my head. Please video tape if you end up going that route! 😉 ha

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