Monday, January 14, 2008

Flash Crowd on the Subway

I borrowed the following entry from the WonderCafe blog of David Giuliano, who is the leader of The United Church of Canada (which is where I work). David is undergoing treatment for cancer. (Picture from The Toronto Star.)

On the subway last night, there were lots of empty seats and I took one. I was making my way down town for another MRI. Most of the east-bound riders were young folks heading out for the evening. Memories of the days when I too might have been reveling on a Saturday night left me nostalgic.

With each stop more riders crowded into the car. A wave of young folks boarded at the Dundas West stop. Then they took their pants off. First, it was just one young woman standing near me. Without the slightest interruption in the conversation with her friends, she kicked off her boots, stepped out of her pants and rolled them into a ball to stuff in her backpack.

Now she wore boots, a t-shirt and jacket and “panties”. Proximity is relative. She hadn’t moved but without pants felt suddenly closer to where I was sitting. A middle-eastern man seated next to me stared forward and gazing medatatively into middle space when I left the train. I directed my discomfort to looking “out” the window which, on a subway is more than a bit ridiculous.

Reflected in the glass, I could see that other passengers were shedding their pants. My initial awkwardness and embarrassment turned to curiosity. Twenty or thirty young people had removed their pants. They continued to nonchalantly chat. One young guy in boxers, leather jacket, boots, and cowboy, hat read philosophy. A couple wore matching suits and ties, black leather shoes and socks. They had folded their pants neatly into brief cases. I’m not making this up.

Two big 20-something guys with a case of beer boarded the train. Their heads spun on their necks in disbelief. “What’s this about?” whispered one to his friend. They covered their eyes and giggled like boys. Like me, they had obviously not been notified that it was international don’t wear your pants day! Then, one shrugged and said, “What the hell” and dropped his drawers. His friend set the case of beer on a seat next to me and did the same.

With each stop the number of pant-less patrons multiplied. Some of the bare-legged left the train and others got on. There were a few people sans-pants among the crowds on the platform. It wasn’t lewd in the least. Mostly, it struck me as wonderfully funny. Even the most seasoned urbanites found it difficult to pretend that beyond their IPod-armor they were outnumbered by people without pants. What added to the hilarity was that everyone – the slackless and the simply slack-jawed – did their best to pretend nothing unusual was happening.

Later, I found where the “First No Pants Subway Ride" invited participants to meet at Dundas West. Other than not wearing pants the only rules were “keep a straight face” and “no cameras”. The “point” – if one is necessary or possible – it seems was just enjoying the absurdity of crowds of people riding the subway in their underpants. By the time I had to switch trains at St. George’s Station about half the people on the car were bare-legged. One more stop and I may have succumbed to the restrained, festive energy and joined the performance art.

Instead, I climbed the steps at the Queens Park Subway stop again, and sat in the waiting area at Toronto General Hospital. I chatted with few other patients. We watched the American Primaries on CNN. I took my cloths off and put on a hospital gown. My head was clamped into place and I was rolled into a tunnel of magnets to test the efficacy of surgery and radiation treatments. All the while I was smiling about this lovely, ridiculous, playful, wonderful world in which we live.


  1. That's some crazy town you live in, AG. You Canadians are so liberal. Let's talk soon--I want to ask you some questions about the desert.


  2. Liberal? But they were wearing underpants!!

  3. Questions about the DESERT? I believe questions about Toronto are in order!

  4. All guys is were Liberal but they were wearing underpants.