Monday, January 9, 2012

No Pants Light Rail Day

Emerald City Improv and shutterbugs
"This is a form of peaceful terrorism, right?", the young Asian guy standing next to me wondered aloud. We were part of a gathering crowd at Westlake Park coming together to participate in No Pants on Light Rail Day. As deviant as the name sounds, it is an organized event in a handful of cities around the world and, despite what many may think, it is more about  surprise and fun than showing skin or having sexual undertones. The organizers of the Seattle event, Emerald City Improv gave instructions both to the crowd of soon-to-be-pantless people (act natural, as if this was an every day occurrence) and also to the mass of photographers (disperse and don't make yourself conspicuous). From there, we  divided into groups and descended into the tunnel.

crowd gathers at Westlake

On the platform, a few began to drop their pants, when suddenly a transit security officer yelled, "Put your pants back on!" and alluded to arrest and tickets and all types of punishment that one does not want to encounter, especially with their pants down. While on the journey down to the tunnel, I had spoken to a photographer who worked for Sound Transit who said that not only does the transit company know about the event, but they are in full support of it, as it encourages people to take light rail. Apparently, no one had briefed (no pun intended) the security personnel and while she was calling in for backup (the pantless among her were increasing in numbers), one of the organizers emerged and explained the situation, setting people free to drop their drawers without fear of arrest.

The train arrived and a mass of people, some with pants and some without, got on. Destination: Sea-Tac International Airport. Soon, the pantless nearly outnumbered the clothed and a couple flying back to Southern California were suspicious that this wasn't just a coincidence, as they were being told by their fellow passengers. A wink let them know that they had happened upon something that was not so spontaneous, yet still unexpected and a lot of fun. My Japanese exchange student friend and I disembarked at the Columbia City Station as a way to spread out the masses. Since the light rail comes every 20 minutes, it would be just a short wait for another train and I could get caught up on reading my book in the meantime. While the trains are heated and very comfortable, the station platform is not and I felt exposed, in more ways than one. Passersby smirked, smiled and stared, not necessarily in that order.
blending in at Columbia City

On the second train, the pantless were less concentrated, but there was a higher ratio of photographers to the pantless. It was hard to look in any direction and not see a camera, either trained on you or on someone nearby. For a period of three minutes, all that could be heard was the sound of a camera shutter at close range. Click, click, click-click-click, clickety click! They were anything but inconspicuous. In fact, it was unimaginable that anyone on the train had been surprised by us, once they saw the photographers and realized that this was an event that had been planned and publicized and required press passes.

Arriving at the airport, there were fewer photographers and fewer people in general. On the walk to the terminal, a few onlookers remarked that we must be flying somewhere really warm, but we responded that, no, we were just on an outing to the airport. Once inside the airport, I was no longer just walking, I was striding, feeling confident and maybe even looking good in my Ibex boy shorts. The ego definitely came into play on this outing, but only in a positive way, as we didn't feel we were being judged either by fellow participants or by onlookers (and definitely not by photographers!). Most people smiled, a few gave the "thumbs up" sign, though many just tried to act natural. We found ourselves at Starbucks where I saw a hint of a smile on the barista's face, as though she knew what was going on.

We sat down with our drinks when I noticed the man at the table next to us had a camera; I had become paranoid about cameras. Although it turned out that he was just a guy with a camera, he was very curious as to why my friend and I had no pants on. I spoke of the freedom that comes when you take your pants off – he looked at me sideways. Just then, a crowd of pantless people appeared and so did the paparazzi. The photographers were lined up on the other side of the railing, as though we were animals at the zoo; there must have been six or seven of them, with stragglers and tourists getting out their point-and-shoots.
arriving at Sea-Tac
Titanium Sporkestra at Sea-Tac

With so many people participating in the event, it made wearing pants seem like the exception and not the norm. After we donned our pants before exiting the tunnel in Westlake, I ran into a fellow no-pants-er near the restrooms inside Macy's and he remarked how odd it felt to wear pants again. It was a peaceful terrorism that my friend alluded at the start; a way to shake people up, get them to question the situation and the norm. And maybe even smile.

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