Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Undie Run I Remember

For: UCLA Magazine

The first run began with 13 guys jumping up and down in our skivvies. At the stroke of midnight during spring 2002 finals, we raced from my bedroom onto Glenrock Avenue. Undie Run was our sophomoric act of defiance against UCPD for deploying scores of officers to prevent Midnight Yell from again digressing into a melee of broken windows and burning couches.

Four years later – the length of study for most undergraduates – Undie Run has become a bonafide Bruin event. UCLA officials last spring tired of testosterone-fueled guys running across the hoods of parked cars and of drunken students face-planting on Westwood streets, and designated a path through campus.

No longer 13 strong, Undie Run boasted 5,000 participants by police estimates in June – about 150 more than this fall’s anticipated freshman class. Wearing boxers or briefs, cotton panties or lace thongs – and in some cases miraculously less – students ran, walked and frolicked down Gayley, across De Neve Plaza, past Pauley Pavilion and up Bruin Walk. The run culminated for many with a dip in Shapiro Fountain, between UCLA’s most iconic buildings.

“No other event at UCLA brings students together like this,” the Daily Bruin editorialized.

I was dumbfounded by what had become of our little run. I met at the June run alums who returned after skipping the event as students; underclassmen participating for the fourth or fifth time; and students from other schools who heard the call of the wild. Mostly, I found an event that thrives without any leadership, any organization or even any awareness of how the dance began.

“I have no idea,” Brandon Lafferty, a sophomore wearing cycling shorts, a cowboy hat, aviator sunglasses and a beach towel for a cape, told me. “I know it’s a tradition though. It’s gotta be like 20 years now.”

My, how quickly things change. When Undie Run began, runners were target practice for Glenrock residents lobbing beer-filled balloons and firing paintball guns. For this reason and the sheer silliness of prancing around in my underpants with what was then mostly guys, I was never excited about Wednesday night of finals week. But I remained more embarrassed to sit on the sidelines than to show off my Scooby-Doo boxers.

My college roommate, Eric Whitehead, B.A. ‘04, founded and fostered the quarterly event. He was a theater student who loved to strap on his booty shorts, slip on his frog cap and slap a boombox blaring “Eye of the Tiger” on his shoulder.

“Crazy,” Whitehead said when he heard what had become of his legacy. “I hope it doesn’t get out of control like Midnight Yell, with people lighting couches on fire and the cops showing up in riot gear and shooting people with rubber bullets.”

Since being moved onto campus, the event has continued with limited disturbances and UCLA has no plan of terminating it. But Dean of Students Robert J. Naples said that would change if Undie Run becomes a safety or criminal concern. “This is just a problem waiting for intervention,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong because this is something students do look forward to.”

The original 13 runners have moved on to law school and record deals, newspaper reporting and cruise-ship singing. But assuming Undie Run will live on – and it’s the only contribution some of us made at UCLA – I wonder who will be the first among us to have a son or daughter take the jog.

--By Brad A. Greenberg '04