What type of person would voluntarily ride public transportation without pants? Well if you were to judge based on the jovial atmosphere created by the thousands of worldwide knickers wearing commuters on Sunday, January 12, 2014 your answer could possibly be, what type of person wouldn’t want to voluntarily ride public transportation without pants?
The “No Pants Subway Ride” is an annual “flash mob” organized by the performance art group Improv Everywhere where subway riders around the globe from Beijing to Berlin, Madrid to Sydney are encouraged to ditch their pants during their commute. Here in the states, a few metropolitan cities have joined in on the debauchery including Chicago, Minneapolis and New York City. Unfortunately for those cities, the event was held during one of the Mid-West and Eastern Coasts worst snow storms with temperature’s dipping below 0˚F. In sunny California, however, thermometers hovered around 70˚F, much to the delight of the commuters who decided to brave Los Angeles’ (in)famously inconsistent metro rail cars sans pants.
One thing I have had to explain to family and friends alike as to the purpose of the No Pants Subway Ride is that very much in parallel to several aspects of modern day life (White folks using the N-Word, reality television, the existence of the Kardasians as a whole…), there is no real purpose. This is no act of remembrance of some brave war vet who maybe lost his legs or some viral campaign to help raise funds for prosthetic legs for some cherubic paraplegic child in the New England states. The purpose of the No Pants Subway Ride is to ride the subway with no pants on. Period. That’s it. That’s the joke. That’s the punch line. This explanation is usually returned with an exasperated double blink intonating, “I don’t get it” or a barrage of questions that challenges the theory that there is no such thing as a dumb one. For example:
Q1: What if someone has skid marks? A1: You stay the fuck away from them.
Q2: Aren’t you afraid of catching something? I would bring antibacterial wipes. A2: It’s fucking public transportation. If you’re afraid of that, you shouldn’t ride the train… ever.
Q3: Do you have to wear underwear? Can you be naked? A3: Why the fuck do you think you can ride bucket ass naked on a goddamn subway car (with kids on it mind you) and not get arrested?
Q4: Do you have to pay the fare to get on the subway? A4: Why the fuck do you think you can ride the train for free because you wearing your draws.
Q5: What if someone’s crotch is in your face? What if they didn’t take a shower before they got on? A5: See the answer to Q2.
As the event approached and I was bombarded with more inane questions, the event began to appear less sparkly and spontaneous. I began to wonder about the fragile state of human independence and considering as much as we loudly declare an unyielding and unquenchable thirst for freedom, exactly how much we equally hunger for direction and compliance; or a leader to both tell us what to do as well as shield us from pain and embarrassment when it all goes to shit. It brought to mind National Novel Wring Month (NaNoWriMo) where people are encouraged to write a 50,000 word novel in a month only for some participants to retort, “What do you consider a novel? Why 50,000 words? What if I fall short? Can I write one word 50,000 times?” Or even on a more dramatic note Lars von Trier’s film “Manderlay” where a White woman obtains the freedom for an entire plantation of slaves only for them to turn around and retort, “If I don’t cook for master, who do I cook for? What do I eat? Master laid out my day for me. If there is no master, what do I do with my time?” As my eyes glistened over listening to inquiry after inquiry about the “No Pants Subway” ride, my mind just screamed to them, to the nagging NaNoWriMo writers, to the newly freed slaves of Manderlay, “It’s fucking freedom! Use some common sense and do what the fuck you what to do!” A sentiment that stayed with me as I arrived bright and early Sunday morning at the North Hollywood station wearing boxers and a t-shirt underneath a roomy pair of overalls that I could disrobe quickly before boarding the train.
There were Ride Captains at around five subway stations around Los Angeles. Curiously enough, none of the stations were located in predominately African American neighborhoods and curiously enough the Ride Captain at North Hollywood was called… Agent Honkey. He gave us the basic schpeel about The No Pants Subway Ride. Basically we were to act if it were any other normal ordinary day, just with no pants. If someone were to ask what’s going on you would reply something to effect of, “I don’t know. I’m just riding the train.” If they were to reply, “Where are your pants?” you would say, “I just forgot them.” Don’t talk to the press, don’t talk to each other. Just ride the train with no pants on. So in broad strokes rule one of the “No Pants Subway Ride” is that you don’t talk about the “No Pants Subway Ride”. Rule two, you don’t talk about the “No Pants Subway Ride”.
So dozens of us pile onto the subway car, boxers, bikinis and briefs in tow. A voluptuous young woman who I will refer to as “Laquisha Ratchet Ghetto Queen” gets on the train with her stoic boyfriend and loudly asks, “What’s all this about y’all!?” and someone proceeds to run down the entire history of the “No Pants Subway Ride” to her. Laquisha gets so excited about the idea that she loudly asks everyone on the train if she should take off her painted on jeans which causes the entire subway car to scream an enthusiastic “yes!” which causes the paparazzi to rush over to our car and ask what is going on. A pants-less Laquisha in turn runs down the entire history of the “No Pants Subway Ride” to the reporters and ends it with a girlish flip of her multi-colored weave/wig, “I’m going to be on TV!? I’m going to be famous?! I ain’t got no pants on y’all! Heeeeey!” To which the entire subway car cheers in an identical, “Heeeey!”
I settle down in my seat and question my own desire for order and compliance as I pull out my paperback copy of Robert Olen Butler’s “Hell”. And as tragic foreshadowing would have it, Laquishia’s dreadlocked cousins get on the train right before the doors close. They have no idea what’s going on, and they don’t care. It’s a subway car full of “bitches in they bikini’s”. They light up a vapor cigarette and pass it around.
As the train takes off, I get further into “Hell” and the cousins light up a doobie and start passing it around. This is when it occurs to me the complex falsity and beauty of this whole plan. There is no way that you’re going to get a group of people together in their underwear on a subway train and think that they are NOT going to act like they are not wearing their underwear on a subway train. And like prom night when you rationalize that the laws of nature and man do not include you because you’re wearing something cool, these folks have decided to use this break in polite civility to throw caution into the wind and just say, “Fuck it, bitches be in they bikini’s! Let’s light one up.” Now I have to say, this was fine by me. I was even tempted to grab the marijuana joint when the puff, puff, pass rotation hit my way if it weren’t for the fact that the guy behind me, who had no idea what was going on and whom I assume was just trying to get to work called the conductor demanding security come to the car to stop the virtual “orgy” going on back there. At the next stop I decided to move to another train in hopes that when the cops came, I would not be mistaken as part of Laquisha’s crew since we were the only people in the car of the same ethnicity.
As I get off the train, Laquisha sees me and gleefully yells, “Where is everybody with no pants going!? I thought we were going to stay on this train!? Where y’all going!?” I slide into another car only to find that the entire car somehow DEEMED ME THEIR DE FACTO LEADER (!!!) and has followed me into the new car. I also realize that I have left my book on my seat. This is when Laquisha and the crew pile in. As I murmur “Son of a bitch” under my breath, I look longingly into the now empty car I was in and smell the newly lit marijuana joints waft through the air in this car. Laquisha comes over to me, hands me my book and says, “You left this big man!” Laquisha returns Hell back to me.
For the most part the rest of the trip was uneventful aside from the fact that all of the subway cars were packed to capacity with people in their underwear who all turned it into one big frat party that was silenced only when we hit downtown and an elderly homeless African American woman began to loudly plead for money and food, not even remotely amused by any of the days’ festivities, even when someone yelled, “We would help but we don’t have any pockets, we don’t have any pants.”
When the whole excursion ended, the press lined up at Hollywood/Highland as if we were arriving for the Oscars. Coincidently, it took me about an hour and a half to find the perfect pair of underwear that would appear fun and appropriate. I truly wanted to wear my Captain America briefs but I feared that as much weight as I have gained recently they would have gotten lost in my folds á la Norbit. So I decided to go with a more conservative pair of boxers. Predictably enough, however, not one photographer stopped to take my picture. And why would they, bitches was in they bikini’s.
We all walked about ten blocks down Hollywood Boulevard in our underwear to get much needed liquor and food at a local pub. As I drank my beer and nibbled food off of everyone else’s plate I did contemplate the idea of community and freedom. Is the purpose of community to commonwealth with like-minded individuals or is it more of an effort to insulate yourself from individual culpability? Thousands of us showed up to ride the subway in our underwear. But would any of us have done it alone? Is this freedom that we seek in our lives only achievable if our comrades are with us to deflect the bad shit that goes along with it? And why don’t we trust our own commonsense when expanding the boundaries of our own freedom?
As I finished the last of my beer, readying myself to go to another bar in my underwear I bump into Laquisha one final time. This is the first opportunity I get to see the full extent of her bulbous gluteus maximus, attached like two golden basketballs onto her backside, shielded only by thin white cotton panties with little pastel flowers on them.
“You still got your underwear on big man?” she gleefully calls out to me.
“I’ll take mine off if you take yours off!” I retort swilling the last of my beer.
And… she does, to thunderous applause. I never did, much to the crowd’s drunken chagrin. Sometimes freedom is the absence of constraint. But sometimes, every once in a while, like when you fall in love and someone beautiful hits on you, or you’re underpaid working at a nonprofit helping the community and you turn down a job that pays more in the corporate sector or a drunken crowd of White folks asks to see your testacles, freedom can also be the choice to not cross a line just because it’s there.