No Pants Subway Ride Exposed!

Would you take a subway train ride in the midst of winter, without your pants on? If so, you could have joined the No Pants Subway Ride 2015. Held this year on Sunday, January 11, it was the 14th annual pant-less train ride in New York City, and this wacky event has spread to other American cities such as Chicago and Boston. This exercise in absurdity was created by Improv Everywhere, a “prank collective” that incorporates willing average citizens in its efforts. It was also held in London, Mexico City, Sydney and elsewhere.

Photo by Ellen Levitt
Photo by Ellen Levitt

In New York, there were seven entry gathering points for this happening: two in Queens (Astoria and Flushing Meadow Park), two in Brooklyn (Park Slope and Bushwick), and three in Manhattan (Foley Square, Lower East Side and Central Park). The merriment began officially at 3PM and participants arrived at the central meeting point, Union Square, at 5PM.

The cost of the event was just train fare and the chutzpah to shed your pants. With air temperatures in the low 30s,?and a partly sunny sky, participation took nerve and a sense of humor mixed with adventure. The idea is to let unfold a silly prank, of people walking around nonchalantly without their pants on a cold day, and gauging the reactions of everyone else.

Intrigued by coverage of the event last year, I decided to check it out. I did not participate by shedding my jeans, but?I observed the event from the ?outside.? Beginning at one of the meeting places and riding on the train with participants was a unique experience. The ride began at Brooklyn’s Old Stone House (a recreated Colonial Era house in Park Slope) where about 200 people showed up.

I was not the only curious onlooker. Most of the attendees seemed to be in their 20s and 30s, although there were a few older folks in the crowd too. Most people were dressed casually, but one gentleman was dressed in a lion costume and another wore a horse head. Some came in funny hats, including one man in a big Santa Claus cap.

Surrounded by casual soccer players, kids and families scampering about in the JJ Byrne Playground, and people at a small farmers’ market, Channel 11 PIX sent a small media crew to cover the proceedings, including veteran reporter Magee Hickey (recognizable for her bright red hair). I watched as she interviewed about a dozen participants on camera.

After a brief history of the No Pants Subway Ride, the event spokesperson broke up participants into eight sections, in order to spread them out among the eight-car subway train. One person from each group was issued a small sign and additional instructions on how to best proceed. At each station a few more people in the group would take off their pants while on the train, and then exit at the next stop while waiting for more people to join in. People continued hopping on and off trains in this manner along the entire route.

Walking a few blocks north to the Union Street station on the R train, and knowing that participants were starting one stop south at 4th Avenue-9th Street, I wasn’t quite sure what sights I would see.

On entering the train, a tall skinny fellow stood up, took off his jeans, and sat back down. At the next stop, that young man exited the car, joining a few other pants-less people, including the man in the Santa Hat.

Many riders did not flinch or even offer a second look to the pants-droppers, as if this sort of thing occurred every day. Although a few chuckles could be heard occasionally, most people just strolled by, totally unfazed by trouser-less people wandering around the subway stations in the winter (not that it would any less curious in the summer months?).

This event got a lot of pre-event coverage so it was no secret that today was No Pants Day. Coupled with the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim at the Coney Island beach, New Yorkers have interesting opportunities to frolic in the wintertime.


Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.