Phoenix’s annual No Pants Light Rail Ride started out in 2009 as a goof. Over the last decade, however, it’s become serious fun.
As a matter of fact, the annual urban prank – which involves people gleefully eschewing slacks, skirts, and shorts and riding the light rail while pantsless – attracts hundreds of participants every year.
And according to Jeff Moriarty of Improv Arizona, the local group that organizes the event, it’s all in good fun and always has been.
“It started as a way to show that Phoenix could have a little fun and it wouldn't break anyone. That Phoenix could laugh at itself,” Moriarty says. “But now it's this huge, open, inclusive bit of randomness where people show up in all sorts of outfits with all sorts of backgrounds.”
The event has been around as long as Phoenix’s light rail. No Pants rides have taken place in cities with public rail transportation around the world (including NYC, Tokyo, and London) since the early aughts. And in January 2009, Moriarty and other members of Improv Arizona brought the event to the Valley because they thought it’d be fun.
“At the time people didn't do [things] like this in Phoenix. Nobody would bat an eye if it was in San Francisco or New York, but here?” Moriarty told Phoenix New Times in 2016. “I wanted to make people laugh, and let them know fun stuff could happen in Phoenix, too.”
A couple dozen people participated during the first ride – and the crowds have grown exponentially in size over the last nine years.
For this year’s event, the 10th edition of the ride, Moriarty is expecting several hundred people will be in attendance when it takes place on Sunday, January 7.
And they’ll all be pantsless. They’ll all have underwear on, of course, as well as other items of clothing like socks, shoes, shirts, jackets, and whatnot – just not any pants.
Some folks will get creative with ensembles or will wear costumes. Other participants will try to be as modest as possible, which Moriarty says is common among first-timers.
“My favorite are people who will come the first time and wear some really conservative underwear like bloomers or long underwear because they're embarrassed,” Moriarty says. “Then when they see all the shapes and sizes there, they wear whatever the hell they want the next time around.”
Pantsless participants will meet up at four different light rail stations on either side of the Valley at 1 p.m. before getting on trains bound for downtown Phoenix.
Once on board, they’re expected to act naturally as if nothing is amiss. It’s all part of the prank, Moriarty says.
“They should act like nothing strange is going on,” he says. “They're just on their way somewhere on Phoenix's wonderful Light Rail, listening to some music or reading a book or chatting with friends.”
Meanwhile, other riders are likely to give participants confused looks or ask what the hell is going on.
“If someone asks why they don't have pants on, act surprised! ‘What? Nobody else has pants on either? That's crazy! What a coincidence!’” Moriarty says.
Beyond that, however, riders will want to refrain from any over-the-top shenanigans, especially in light of Valley Metro officials announcing last year that they’re cracking down on rude and obnoxious behavior on the light rail.
Moriarty says that organizers are urging participants to avoid such antics while riding.
“We've always tried to follow all light rail rules and restrictions and told our participants to do the same,” he says. “This is about making people laugh, and if anyone leaves angry, [like] other passengers or people who work the light rail, then we've missed the point.”
Besides, he says, there will be plenty of time for such things at the post-ride party that will take place at DeSoto Central Market.
“Save any shenanigans for our meetup, where we'll have a photo booth, a DJ, and plenty of time to make new friends and have fun,” Moriarty says.
If you’re interested in joining in the pantsless fun during this year’s ride on Sunday, we’ve got all the information you’ll need to know in the following guide.
When and Where: This year’s ride begins at 1 p.m. on Sunday, January 7, at four different starting points across the Valley.
Riders will gather at the light rail stations at 19th and Montebello avenues, Veterans Way and College Avenue in Tempe, and Main Street and Sycamore in Mesa. A fourth group will also meet inside Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor Airport near the A-Z Kids Store before boarding the PHX Sky Train and heading to the 44th Street station. (It’s recommended you keep your pants on while in the airport and drop trou just before getting on the Sky Train.)
Participants should take the first train that arrives at their respective stop after 1 p.m. and head for the Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street station in downtown Phoenix. They will then deboard and head across the intersection to DeSoto Central Market, 915 North Central Avenue, for the post-ride festivities.
Prices: While it’s totally free to participate in the event, you’ll have to buy your own fare in order to board the trains. One-way rides are $2 and an all-day pass is $4. There won’t be a cover at DeSoto, but you’ll have to pay for your food and drinks (unless you prefer water).
Parking: The stations at both Sycamore and Main in Mesa and 19th Avenue and Montebello have free park-and-ride lots. Meanwhile, metered street parking and pay lots are available in Tempe and Sky Harbor has a host of garages and structures that will run you around $10 to $15.
Weather: You might want to bring a jacket or an umbrella as the forecast for Sunday says there’s a good chance of rain. Consider wearing some rubber boots, too, just in case.
Food and Drink: DeSoto Central Market features six different eateries (including Tea & Toast Co., Adobo Dragon, and RADish) and a fully stocked bar serving beer, wine, and cocktails. If none of that suits your particular palate, there are a variety of other food and drink spots in close proximity, like Short Leash, FEZ, and Angels Trumpet.
What to Bring: A backpack, small bag, or fanny pack is recommended if you need something to hold your pants, wallet, keys, or other stuff. Consider bringing along a newspaper, book, or tablet to have something to read while riding the light rail to pass the time or maintain the illusion that you’re just another rider.
What Not to Bring: Um ... pants, not to mention a rowdy or disruptive attitude.
What to Wear: Moriarty says that riders should choose underwear that’s comfortable to wear but doesn’t expose too much. So if you’re a dude who wants to rock boxers, make sure all the appropriate flaps are secured. Or you just might want to double up. “Boxers are comfy, but can be a little ... revealing sometimes,” he says. “I suggest one pair for style, one pair underneath for safety.”
If you’re interested in sporting some colorful or snazzy-looking underwear or socks, that’s not only acceptable but a big part of the event. Moriarty says it's fun to wear “something fun, colorful, and interesting [just] as long as it covers your jiggly bits.”
Speaking of which, thongs and marble bags might technically be permitted under current decency laws, but it’s probably best to sport something a little less scandalous. It also goes without saying that nudity is not permitted in any way.
Dos and Don'ts: As previously mentioned, participants should try to stay in character and maintain the joke that they’re ordinary riders who simply didn't remember to put on pants. Also, please refrain refrain from dropping dime to nonparticipants about what’s going on. After all, the ride is a prank.
“While you’re riding, act as if nothing strange is going on. Do what you’d normally do on the light rail – listen to your iPhone, read a book, etc. You have no idea why others are not wearing pants. If anyone asks, have a simple excuse prepared for why you’re not wearing pants – you were hot, you forgot them, etc.”
In other words, don’t spoil the joke.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.