The inbound BART slows to a stop, making its scheduled pickup at the 16th & Mission station. As the doors slide open, eight passengers board the car dressed appropriately for this wet and wintery San Francisco Sunday, with scarves tucked into their raincoats. All seems orderly, except between their coattails and sock tops, they’re not wearing any pants.
Come to think of it, the girl sitting across the aisle isn’t wearing pants either. Neither is the guy in the suit and tie checking his phone—he too forgot his trousers! Why aren’t they mortified?
This isn’t the beginning of a stress-related nightmare. This will be the scene on BART and Muni trains this Sunday, January 8th, starting at 4pm.
Sunday will mark the 16th annual “No Pants Subway Ride” in over 60 cities around the world, an event where anyone is encouraged to ride their city’s public transportation without pants, while keeping a straight face as if it’s completely normal.
The event was started by Improv Everywhere in New York City in 2002, and had only seven participants.
Improv Everywhere is a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places. As per their website, founder Charlie Todd says there is no agenda for the event apart from a desire to make others laugh and smile, and refers to the event as a “celebration of silliness.”
Participants of all ages, races, and backgrounds are encouraged, with men and women participating in equal numbers.
Vivek Ramachandran, the organizer for San Francisco, is a seasoned veteran when it comes to riding subways without pants. He first participated in the New York and Chicago events nine years ago before moving to San Francisco and organizing his first event here in 2010.
“We gathered in Union Square after the ride and we had close to 300 people, all pantless. We then went into the (now closed) Levi's store 'looking for pants.' Needless to say, it was a good time,” Ramachandran said.
Ramachandran expects anywhere between 50-1,200 participants, but says sometimes the best responses are when the number of pantless riders on a single car are few and far between.
“One of my colleagues was riding a Muni bus with only a few pantless people. Someone who had pants on turned to him and asked, 'Why are you not wearing any pants?' He turned to him, while looking at himself in a very surprised look, and said, 'Oh crap, I knew I forgot something this morning.' Perfect response in my opinion,” Ramachandran said.
Those who are first-timers, or perhaps a bit shy about riding public transportation sans slacks, are encouraged to meet at the Daly City BART station around 4pm., where there will be a larger contingency of fellow bare-legged participants.
“You would see people trying not to stare, and then sometimes you would see people totally staring and whispering. That was when it was hardest not to keep a straight face,” said Amber Williams, who recalls participating in a past No Pants Subway ride in Washington, D.C. and is excited to see what San Francisco’s version has to offer.
“At first you couldn't help but laugh but you just kind of just pretended you are headed somewhere,” Williams said. “The conversation with my friends became everyday life conversation and it almost felt normal.”
All riders are encouraged to make their way to Embarcadero station from all directions, before catching the 4:46pm train to Powell Street station. The final destination will be Codeword (917 Folsom St.) for pantless afterparty celebration.
Organizers remind participants that the point of the No Pants Subway Ride is not nudity, but rather tasteful comedy. They also urge participants not to argue with law enforcement if they are asked to put pants back on.