Media Circus of Biblical Proportions at Armageddon HQ
Off to the side, a guy carried a sign reading "Homosexuality is caused by child abuse." He and the Gay Rights dudes occasionally stared at each other warily, but luckily their paths never crossed.
By this stage, the whole scene was utterly surreal. Photographers began lining up across the street, and passing cars (most coming from the nearby airport) slowed down so people could snap pictures to show the folks back home. California never disappoints!
Bishop Joey held court in his Oakland A's-styled "Atheists" shirt, the perfect interview subject for the throngs of media crews looking for something to focus on.
Every now and then a helium-filled love-doll would escape and fly up to heaven prematurely. One can only imagine the chatter between the pilots of passing 747s and the airport control tower: "Roger, I have an unidentified flying sex toy off the port side. Please advise."
"This is Southwest Airlines flight 238. Spongebob Squarepants is ascending to heaven in our flight path. Abort landing?"
Someone put snarky signs (this being the most memorable) all over the parking lot.
One of the "scientists" repeated the same joke found in a million blog-comments over the last week.
As far as anyone could tell, there were no Camping followers on hand for the Milpitas Christians to console, so instead they formed a line on the roadside and consoled passing traffic.
As 6pm approached, the whole scene just descended into chaos. Everyone was everywhere with no rhyme or reason, cameras pointing every which way, trying to visually capture Armageddon somehow.
Yes, my son, this is what hell looks like.
The Christians seemed overwhelmed by it all, and retired to the back to the parking lot to have a group prayer huddle. The fact that they tried to do it out of the way where no one could see them -- the first non-performative act I'd seen in hours -- indicated to me that they were sincere, not just showing off.
Finally, 6 o'clock rolled around -- rather anti-climactically as it turned out, since various jokesters had been loudly yelling premature countdowns since at least 5:15, just to confuse everyone -- and the balloon-souls were released. Everyone looked skyward and cheered.
A prank had gone viral on Facebook earlier in the day: Place empty clothes on sidewalks around your neighborhood after 6pm, to indicate where "raptured" Christians had ascended bodily into heaven, leaving all worldly things -- including clothes -- behind. Someone apparently thought it was funny to surround Camping's office with these prank rapture outfits.
Or could it be -- some in the crowd really had gone "poof" at 6pm, and none of us noticed? If so: had they all been barefoot? Or do you walk around in heaven naked except for your shoes?
The media, grateful to finally have a visual to accompany their Rapture coverage, hung around for hours afterward interviewing anyone who would consent to go on camera.
The man who said the world was going to end appeared at his front door in Alameda a day later, very much alive but not so well.
"It has been a really tough weekend," said Harold Camping, the 89-year-old fundamentalist radio preacher who convinced hundreds of his followers that the rapture would occur on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Massive earthquakes would strike, he said. Believers would ascend to heaven and the rest would be left to wander a godforsaken planet until Oct. 21, when Camping promised a fiery end to the world.
But today, almost 18 hours after he thought he'd be in Heaven, there was Camping, "flabbergasted" in Alameda, wearing tan slacks, a tucked-in polo shirt and a light jacket.
Birds chirped. A gentle breeze blew. Across the street, neighbors focused on their yard work and the latest neighborhood gossip.
"I'm looking for answers," Camping said, adding that meant frequent prayer and consultations with friends.
"But now I have nothing else to say," he said, closing the door to his home. "I'll be back to work Monday and will say more then."