#2: No Pants T Ride – “But get on that train right here.”

January 10th, 2010: Boston’s Society of Sponteneity’s third annual No Pants T Ride.  Wearing regular underwear in public doesn’t violate decency laws; wearing regular underwear and a sweater plus a coat, scarf, hat, and knee socks gives you maybe eight times more coverage than your average bathing suit.  It’s legal, but it’s strange, unexpected, and horrifyingly cold– an excellent fit for the second of 52 adventures.

The Alewife T station is the northern end of Boston’s red line, and looks kind of like a stern Soviet aviation museum.  Participants were instructed to meet there (still in pants) and find for organizers with question mark umbrellas.  Kim and I got there early, before BSOS popped up, and immediately sought out coffee.  It’s important to be alert for public transporation pants-shedding.  We approached the nearest restaurant in Alewife–approached, that is, until we saw the wild turkey standing on the stoop.  Staring at us.  Daring.  When it comes down to it a gigantic bird is a stronger deterrent than even the cruelest Yelp review, so we tracked back to the in-station Dunkin’ Donuts counter.  I prepped that coffee on a metal payphone table and went over two facts made clearer by caffeine: “The Summer Shack” had a large, live turkey for a bouncer, and it was not the strangest thing I was going to see that hour.

Somehow we missed the first few minutes of group orientation–as beginners, we weren’t prepared for that level of sponteneity–and by the time we noticed the organizers with the question-mark umbrellas they’d advertised, the crowds were sixty people deep.  We pressed as close to the middle as we could, just in time to make out what they were asking the crowd and each other. “Where are the group leaders?  Are you a leader?”

I italicize there because–well, you can assume the text was slanted towards me in a very personal way.  Eye contact between organizer and newly arrived redhead.  Is Jane a leader?  I felt adventurous (caffeinated) and answered affirmatively.  Yes, I am a leader!  Hand me that paper you’re trying to hand people.  I’m your adventurous people.  I’m the sort of person who does this sort of thing.  I grasped it in my yellow-gloved hands and looked down at the instructions, before deciding that this was only adventure 2/52 and leadership was another adventure entirely.  I hadn’t realized how much orchestration it took to get a good pantsless : bystander ratio over two train lines with (by now) two hundred participants, and to someone who’d never been involved before, it was pretty overwhelming.  We weren’t just boarding a train and shimmying out of our trousers.  The goal was to stagger entrances and exits so riders got the impression that pantslessness was widespread.

So maybe I wasn’t a leader just yet.  They assigned us to another group–the first group.  We clustered off by ourselves as she assigned different stations for each set of people to offhandedly remove their pants.  I think I was more nervous standing by the train platform trying to figure out when we got on and off than I was about anything else.  Our group (made of myself, our fearless leader Kimberly, her best friend, and his visiting friend from Germany) were already taking some flak for breaking rules–the paper specified sets of two, and the woman who’d taken charge worried a foursome might throw off the algorithm.  So when an organizer (I think it was James Cobalt, the founder) jogged up, I was relieved—as though I was owed structure and firm guidance by an organization with “spontaneity” in the name.  When I asked for some direction about where we should get on and off and take off pants and transfer to the orange line, he nodded and gave a far better answer:  “It’s no problem!  Just have fun,” he said, “But get on that train right here.”

So the four of us got on that train and, as instructed, removed our pants between Charles/MGH and Park Street.  I can’t honestly remember how any bystanders reacted.  I remember that it was cold, but less cold than expected (as we were still on the train) and that I had a moment of displaced panic trying to fit my jeans into my purse—like that’s what people would notice about me first.  I was wearing short shorts with coffee cups, but the cut of my coat meant I could have been wearing anything or very little.  Green knee socks, brown coat over shirt and sweater, peach chucks, yellow scarf, yellow hat, yellow gloves.  No pants.  I plugged in my earbuds and began listening intently to Matt & Kim’s Grand.  I knew there was a photographer darting around, and I thought she was someone hired by BSOS.  She actually worked for the Boston Herald.  That’s how we ended up on page four.

Photo: Faith Ninnivaggi

The photograph cropped from the 1/11/10 Boston Herald article. Photo: Faith Ninnivaggi.

Clockwise from the left: Alex, Brad, Kim, Me, Puzzled Background Man, Woman In Sunglasses, and Bemused Blonde Commuter.  You can’t tell from the angle of the photo, but we’re reading The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller and More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman.

Next year I’m planning on bringing Naked by David Sedaris, or maybe just an apple.  It’s to this event’s credit that I actually started planning next year’s props before I made a conscious decision to participate again.  I really do think I will.  I’ll participate in as many Boston Society of Spontaneity events as I can.  My only question is how many of them I should count as adventures.  Maybe I was right; maybe I am the sort of person who does this sort of thing, and I’d just never had the chance.

Scan of the full article:

Boston Herald Article 1/11/10.

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