Riding the subway in New York is always an experience. There are the crazies, the break-dancers, the muggers, the artists, the musicians, the students, and even those who refuse to wear pants. While you may dislike all of these groups of people, as a New Yorker you learn to accept their “nonsense.” The unidentifiable aromas you welcome like home; the man who yells at you for not accepting a religion becomes a good friend; the artists who dress up as skeletons on Wednesdays you see in your office, and whether you like it or not, all of the insanity becomes a part of your normal life.
While I typically refrain from joining the odd balls that frequent the MTA, this past Sunday I joined the fray. For 3 hours alongside thousands of others, I went pantless in New York City. As part of a tradition spanning 12 years, “No Pants Subway” has become a staple of the NYC experience. Hundreds of people gather at one of six locations across five burrows, break up into small groups, decide which stops to enter and exit on, walk onto the subway, and drop their pants. You ride for a few stops, get off, wait for the next train and then get right back into the action. You don’t acknowledge your fellow pantless participants or do anything crazy. You simply carry on as you normally would.
I attended the event with my roommate, beginning at The Big Hill in Central Park located on 106th street. I was the first to arrive and was shocked to see how diverse the crowd was. There were plenty of 20 year olds, of course, but there were also boys and girls no more than 6 years old accompanied by pantless parents, and even handfuls of 65 year olds with canes. There were men in three button suits, women in dresses, a man in a bear costume, a couple of women dressed as robots, a man who looked strikingly like a colleague of mine, and me, a 23 year old in jeans, sneakers, a thermal, a scarf, and a grey jacket. My roommate arrived in a similar outfit around 3:15 p.m.; and fifteen minutes later we were divided into our designated groups, walking to the C train on 103rd, stepping onto the train and beginning one of the most hilarious days of our lives.
While I can talk forever about the looks and comments directed at me throughout the day, suffice it to say that there is one 60 year old woman to whom I must apologize to. As I bent down to expose my boxer briefs I realized that they revealed more than I had hoped for, and she was about eye level with “it.” I am sorry if this offended you, nice lady. My intention was to make you laugh, not gasp and scream.
Apart from making me question my daily outfit choices, this memorable day got me thinking about so many other aspects of the subway. How the subways are surprisingly warm, the seats are not as dirty as you would expect, and how common it is to see nudity of some sort on a subway car. But, most importantly, this experience got me thinking about all of the ways the subway is represented in T.V and film.
For me, the first that comes to mind is the Seinfeld episode entitled “Subway.” Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George each have different plans for the day and decide to take the subway alone. Jerry gets the urge to go to Coney Island to ride The Cyclone; Elaine is the “best man” at a lesbian wedding; George is on his way to a job interview; and Kramer just rides the subway for the sake of riding. Of course, in typical Seinfeld fashion, each of their journeys are far from normal. Jerry falls asleep and awakes to a nude man reading the newspaper, who he later befriends. Elaine’s train gets stuck on route and she internally berates the passengers who she claims are groping her. George ditches his job interview for a woman who finds him attractive and winds up being tied to the bed post in a hotel room. And Kramer sits conveniently by a couple of race horse junkies and gets the inside scoop about the “mudder” racing that day. Though the episode aired over 20 years ago, the scenarios and jokes are all relevant today.
The second subway representation I adore is the scene in Woody Allen’s film Bananas. Woody is reading a magazine on the train when two muggers board his car (one being a young Sylvester Stallone). Woody then tries his best to ignore the men who beat up the old lady next to him, but suddenly gets the urge to fight them off. He manages to push them off the train, but much to his dismay, the doors pop open just as they are about to leave (typical subway door nonsense). The scene has no dialogue but the musical accompaniment and Allen’s famous expressions make this scene truly one of the greatest in film.
The last depiction I must mention is the HBO documentary Subway Stories. In 1997, HBO asked the general public to submit their favorite subway accounts, which they then used to create a series of shorts. Accomplished actors like Denis Leary, Rosie Perez and Bill Irwin are the leads, and well-respected directors such as Jonathan Demme, Ted Demme, Abel Ferrara, and Craig McKay direct the craziness. The shorts are on YouTube and I recommend them all. They are witty, dramatic, and absolutely sensational.
If you are planning your first trip to New York, please use this blog as a forewarning. You will encounter crazy situations on your trip and there is nothing you can about them. Embrace the craziness, savor the smells, and if you feel so inclined, drop your pants.
Rachel Leigh Cook