Page 2 joins the UCLA Undie Run   

Updated: December 12, 2008, 2:53 PM ET

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LOS ANGELES -- Just before midnight on Wednesday, a bunch of UCLA students are inside Powell Library, nestled into cubicles with textbooks and laptops and lattes in the throes of finals week.

Makes sense. UCLA is one of the top public colleges in the nation, so says U.S. News and World Report, and it's home to some of America's finest young minds. In a few short years, they will lead our country, rescue our economy, fix our decaying schools, wean us off foreign oil, help us go green, and build roads and bridges in Obama's new New Deal. They are hope in the ready position.

UCLA Undie Run

Sam Alipour

Thousands of students bared (almost) everything in the UCLA Undie Run.

A good number of their peers, though, are standing in the middle of the intersection at Strathmore Place and Gayley Avenue, along the campus' eastern border. They are howling at the starless sky … and they're wearing only underwear.

When my editors asked me to participate in the UCLA Undie Run, I was shocked. [Editor's note: Didn't you beg us to let you write this story, Sam?] As a general rule, I won't run unless someone is chasing me, and my policy against races and marathons is even more rigid. I'm sorry, there are just some things that I refuse to do.

Thankfully, running approximately one mile with half-naked co-eds is not one of them.

Undie Run, a recent tradition among Bruin Nation, goes like this: Every quarter, at midnight on the Wednesday of Finals Week, Bruins disrobe to participate in an underwear-and-sneakers-only dash through Westwood.

Pretty simple. And extremely sexy. Though it's cold for Los Angeles -- 55 degress -- I'm swarmed by a 5,000-strong sea of bare-skinned students, ubiquitous California girls and beach dudes, dressed in thongs, granny panties, boxers and tighty-whities, many of them tanned and attractive, and none of them shy.

Take Erin Reid. The freckled freshman in teal panties and a black bra thought to holster her cell phone in one of her chest-muscle pockets. "It'll probably fall out by the end of the night," says Reid, an undecided major. She also mentioned something else could fall out, but wasn't concerned about that possibility: "Not worried about it. Everyone here is pretty chill."

One young man says he's here on the up-and-up. That man is Drew Gordon, a freshman on the UCLA basketball team. Yes sir, the 6-foot-8 forward says he's doing this for his team. "If coach asks, I'll tell him I was just doing some overtime conditioning," kids Gordon, who's wearing only bicycle shorts. ("I can't reveal too much -- gotta represent the program.") In reality, though, Gordon is just another wide-eyed frosh at his first Undie Run. "I've been studying hard all week, so I could use some fun," he says. "But I'm really doing this for the tradition. I had to get this experience out of my system."

Undie run

Sam Alipour

Indeed, the Undie Run attracts a vast cast of characters.

Undie Run began in the 1980s as Midnight Scream -- basically, students yelped out their windows at midnight. Then, in the '90s, Midnight Scream added a street-party element before morphing again into a screaming/running party. Then, when a car chase on Sunset Boulevard nearly mowed down a bunch of students three years ago, the party/scream/run moved to the near-empty campus. At some point, clothing became optional. It's why the numbers are larger now. It's also why the start point is encircled by a half-dozen news vans, several Mexican food stands and a Red Bull truck.

Shockingly, alcohol is a key Undie Run component, but frat brothers have learned not to flaunt it. "The school has really cracked down," explains sophomore Ryan Nagy.

As it turns out, school administrators and local police have their hands all over this thing. Beyond the usual provisions, such as ambulances, they've assigned an unprecedented amount of officers to supervise. They even determined the Undie Run route. For the first time, participants won't be allowed to end the run with a group dip in the fountain outside Royce Hall. They claim it's for safety reasons (because, you know, a bunch of drunk, half-naked boys and girls is otherwise safe). Instead, the run will end at the massive intramural field near Pauley Pavilion.

Among the route deciders and event supervisors is Nancy Greenstein, UCLA's director of police community services, who cites quite a list of concerns (alcohol, slipping and falling, damage to property, etc.) but says she worries most about outsiders. "We really want it to be just UCLA students," Greenstein said. "Students have respect for property and for each other. Others come for the party and to gawk. We don't want that."

No, we certainly do not. Outsiders are creepy and lame -- and they might even help bring an end to the Undie Run.

UCLA Undie Run

Courtesy Sam Alipour

Near the end of each quarter, the streets of Westwood evoke a Victoria's Secret catalog.

"The administration, as much as it can, tries to be supportive of the students, but it's always possible that we stop this," Greenstein continues. "Beyond health and safety issues, this costs the university a lot of money for staff and damages, and we have a huge state budget crisis."

Indeed, the UCLA school newspaper, the Daily Bruin, reported that Undie Run-related costs range up to $75,000 per quarter.

By 11:30 p.m., a sea of bare-skinned, super-silly students have congregated at the start point. There are wigs, masks, inflatable dolls and, in the case of economy major Denise Christie, even a naughty cop costume. "This is so fun!" Christie yelps. "How often do you get a chance to run around in your underwear and arrest boys?"

With the run just moments away, the students are chanting as if they're inside Pauley Pavilion. Undie Run is not just a lingerie party -- there's actual running involved, and it requires motivation. Some chants are obvious ("UN-DIE-RUN!"). Others pepper crosstown rival USC with expletives.

The run starts, with students heading east, sprinting right down the middle of Strathmore, into a tunnel and toward the heart of campus. It's a long straightaway, and it's downhill, and … two kids in wheelchairs just dusted me.

It's wild, and there are already a few casualties. One girl veers to the sidewalk to puke. Another is being wheeled into an ambulance, her worried guy pals talking to some cops at the rear. No time to ponder. "Don't you stop!" a dude yells from behind. He slaps me on the back of my head, which was nice. Then he jets past -- I just got slapped by a dude in a thong. But, boy, some batteries on these kids. They're not merely sprinting. They're sprinting with full tummies while screaming, conversing and even adjoining themselves by the lips.

Eventually, the crowd divvies up as you'd expect: meatheads in the front, hot girls in the middle, stoners and fat kids to the back. Page 2 lags behind even them.

UCLA Undie Run

Courtesy Sam Alipour

Will applications to UCLA spike now that the secret of the Undie Run is out?

We eventually arrive at Bruin Plaza, where we make a tight left, funneling into the Bruin Walk corridor. With a wall on one side and cop cars on the other, it's a tight space, and a few ladies fall, but a few fellas help them up. There will be no trampling. It's an orderly procession, a good-natured crowd.

Shoulder to shoulder, the runners slow to a walk and, as chance would have it, I'm in step with Reid, the one with the teal panties. "This is awesome!" Reid yelps. "I'll do this every quarter, all four years! Actually, forget finals! Even when it's not finals, I'll do it! For sure!"

Ah, the sweet sounds of a rebel yell. Then the corridor widens, and we're running again. Now there's a new chant: "Foun-tain! Foun-tain! Foun-tain!"

What? Could we be heading to the fountain outside Royce Hall, after all? If so, now's the time. We arrive at a split in Bruin Walk, with the intramural field to the left and the fountain to the right, and a decision is made: We veer left. The rebellion is over. The university-approved finish line is near.

It's a shame. These kids are killing themselves to beat their exams, to graduate, and then what? In a few years, they'll get stuck with the nation's rotten tab, a mess their parents and the graybeards in Washington couldn't sort out, and then they'll kill themselves some more to beat back gas prices, home foreclosures, health care providers … and then?

The frosty air burns the lungs, beads of sweat all but freeze on foreheads, and it feels good. Runners rush through the gates that encircle the intramural field and kick their heels in the grass in triumph. There might not be a fountain to splash in, but there are plenty of back slaps and hugs among strangers.

Then, a roar! It's different than all the others. It's a glorious throat-shredding, gut-busting roar -- one that can probably be heard even by the chancellor on his hilltop, and maybe (in that naively hopeful, John Hughes-sorta way) by the adjunct professors, nagging parents, watchful police officers, USC Trojans and The Man, everywhere. It's quite a release, indeed: We ran, we screamed, and maybe we drank, and definitely we did it all wearing next to nothing.

Finally, about an hour later, we pack it in. Last year, police in riot gear had to force runners back to their homes. This year, everyone voluntarily disperses. Reality sets in. There's already talk about tomorrow, the next day and the ones after that. "I'm scared to death of the future," said freshman Jessie Sims, a world arts and cultures major. "I'm so worried about the economy, I'm probably going to grad school for the rest of my life. And it'll be even [expletive] by the time I graduate. But that's the way it is for our generation. You suck it up and adjust."

"Besides," Sims added, "tonight I get to run around in pink underwear!"

Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears in ESPN The Magazine and regularly on Page 2. You can reach him at sam.alipour@gmail.com.


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