Dan Schaumann

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No pants subway ride

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January 13th, 2014 Posted 2:02 am

Last week my friend Alan in Montreal let me know about a global event that was to be held today: the 13th annual No Pants Subway Ride!

The tradition began in 2002 by a ‘prank collective’ known as Improv Everywhere. Founded in New York City by Charlie Todd, Improv Everywhere coordinate elaborate pranks on the unsuspecting public, recruiting from a thousands-strong pool of ‘agents’ who are in on the joke and participate in the events. I’ve stumbled across their immensely popular videos on Youtube before, but it’s only been in the past couple of days that I’ve read up on who they are, ultimately leading me to watch the fascinating documentary that details their rise to fame, We Cause Scenes.

The original No Pants Subway Ride was a simple experiment in which a man walked onto to a subway carriage without his pants. At the next stop, a second man walked onto the same carriage sans trousers. Each man was to remain completely blasé about the fact he was in his underpants; neither was to acknowledge one another. The idea was to see what kind of reaction would be evoked by the surrounding people on the carriage, and also to leave the commuters with a smile on their face (not to mention a crazy story to tell at dinner parties). This is the hidden video taken on the day:



From these humble beginnings, the No Pants Subway Ride has taken on a life of its own, to the point where it’s now held every year in scores of locations all around the world, for exactly the same purpose.

The last time I was involved in a risqué event in a public location was in 2010 when I took part in Spencer Tunick’s photography project entitled The Base. 5,200 entirely naked Sydneysiders gathered on the steps of the Opera House on a brisk autumnal morning in the name of art. It was an extremely liberating and fascinating event to be part of, and I figured Toronto’s No Pants Subway Ride would be the perfect experience to evoke a similar sentiment.


The Base - Spencer Tunick

Spencer Tunick’s The Base



Toronto’s very own No Pants Society were at the organisational helm of this year’s No Pants Subway Ride. Commencing at 4pm at Downsview Station in the city’s north-west, the route would take us down the yellow line to Spadina, east across the green line to Bloor-Yonge, all the way up to Finch at the very north of the yellow line before returning south to our final destination of Queen by around 5:30pm. We would then parade pantsless along Queen Street toward the afterparty.


TTC Subway Map Yellow Line

Downsview – Spadina – Bloor-Yonge – Finch – Queen


I arrived at Downsview and was humoured to discover that one of the TTC’s commissioners back in 1996 was named Joe Pantalone.


Toronto No Pants Subway Ride-Joe Pantalone

Apparently it means ‘trousers’ in Italian


The No Pants Society were ready with their signs, waiting for their eager disciples to arrive. How heartening it was to be amongst the 200+ strong crowd, all keen to get their pants off, take the subway for a ride across town and surprise a few unsuspecting locals.

We were supposed to wait until we all got on the train before we removed our attire, but most people (myself included) got a little carried away and went for it while we were waiting on the subway platform. By the time our train arrived, it was mostly only the journalists who still had their trousers on.

And so the ride began!


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No Pants Subway Ride!


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All of these crazy people were about to take off their pants


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The final announcement


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On the train


We didn’t encounter too many pants-wearers at the earlier stops seeing as Downsview is the first station on the line. The pants-wearers who did enter the train during the initial phase of our journey were totally outnumbered by us no-pantsers, perhaps a little overwhelmed by the absurdity of was occurring in front of their eyes.

Before too long we made it to Spadina and changed platforms to the green line.


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The pedestrian tunnel between lines at Spadina Station


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A horde of no-pantsers waiting on the subway platform at Spadina


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A happy pants-free couple


As we waited for the train, a very excited guy (with pants) at the far end of the platform came running towards us yelling “I found them! I found them! I’ve been looking for you!” He was armed with a video camera and zoomed his lens up & down the half-naked bodies of everyone he walked past, hilariously interviewing them all with gaping eyes as if he’d just entered a magical wonderland. “Chicks in underwear! That’s so cool!” Needless to say, his pants didn’t remain on for too long.

We took the green line to Bloor-Yonge, changed again to the northbound yellow line and it was around here that it started to get interesting. The initial sense of novelty had subsided by now and the no-pantsers were spread out across the carriages, comfortable enough to act as if they were normal passengers: reading books, playing games on their phone, chatting to their partner about what to have for dinner. Some of the looks on the faces of the pants-wearers as they caught a glimpse of us for the first time were pure gold. Can you imagine going out for a spot of shopping like you would do any other Sunday, only to walk into a carriage full of bare legs & underwear on a cold winters day?


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On the way up to Finch


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Quite an eye-opener for the baby


Occasionally the no-pantsers would convince a pants-wearer that they should convert; this was met with raucous cheering & chanting of “One of us! One of us! One of us!”

I got chatting with a commuter sitting in the chair across from me. Initially I thought she had a fairly thick Canadian accent, but it turned out she was as Australian as I was and had only been in the country a few months. While I couldn’t persuade her to partake in the no pants festivities, she was overall very impressed with the open-mindedness of Canadian people and the fact that such an event could be pulled off with zero criticism.


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More happy no-pantsers


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Me in my boxers reading my Charley Boorman book!


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Reminds me of a ZZ Top song


After an hour & a half on the subway, our journey came to an end at Queen station. We all disembarked and walked the freezing Toronto streets to the stairs of City Hall, where we posed for a group photo. From here, we paraded a few blocks further up Queen Street to the location of the No Pants after-party, much to the delight of the passing traffic.


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Heading toward City Hall


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Passing the Queen Street food carts


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The No Pants society leading the way to the after-party


I wasn’t able to make the after-party as I had a hockey game to get to, so I left the group here and regrettably rejoined normal pants-wearing life.

The No Pants Subway Ride was a load of fun, although I can’t help but wonder how groundbreaking it must have been for Charlie Todd all those years ago, before the event became as popular as it is today. Regardless, it was an incredible experience to be part of and I urge you all to look out for it in your city this time next year.

If you’re interested, there are a few awesome professional photos of the event at The Star’s website, and quite a few people who came for the ride have posted their own pics on the event page at Facebook.

It won’t be boxers for me next year. I’m going all the way down to the jocks 🙂


Toronto No Pants Subway Ride-16

Yeah, fuck pants!

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 13th, 2014 at 2:02 am and is filed under Blog, Canada. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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