Thus armed, Dan joins his posse to march into the apocalypse. Besides older guys like Dan, there are younger cats like Matt, a Brooklyn hipster and former ESL teacher. There's also Crystal — a cute 21-year-old from Queens who's been estranged from friends and family since broadcasting Camping's message on Facebook; and Chris, a New Jersey pharmacist who monitors seismic activity via iPhone app. Chris and his brother Bob have tuned into Family Radio for more than 30 years, and were around the first time Camping predicted Armageddon, nearly two decades ago, in the book 1994? "That one had a question mark," explains Bob. "This one has an exclamation point."
Though they've been instructed by group leaders to respect personal space, Dan accosts everyone from junkie bums to Eurotrash window-shoppers. He says he's armed with tracts in 66 different languages, which he pushes on reluctant pedestrians while shouting "INFORMATION" loudly enough to startle passersby five feet away. Dan is anxious to save the souls of hot-dog vendors, thrusting pamphlets on them in mid-mustard squirt. "GO THE HELL OUT OF HERE," screams one proprietor, shaking a bottle of French's classic yellow at him. "YOU FUCKING CRAZY!"
Walking among them, I'm wondering if they are indeed bonkers — if Camping's legionnaires are any nuttier than those who claim Christ will return on a date TBD (i.e., mainstream Christianity). It's hard to tell; as we head down Broadway, Dan and the others are confronted by a number of rattled folks who aggressively counter with their own strange beliefs. One middle-aged Latino repeatedly yells, "NO ONE KNOWS," while a Hasid makes angry eyes, muttering as he smacks away a pamphlet. The reaction seems hypocritical — like when Catholics who consume the Lord in wafer form scoff at rednecks who discover Jesus in a Triscuit.
After jousting with Black Israelites in Union Square, the group continues south, to City Hall. There they hope to piggyback on a separate rally of teachers protesting Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget. On the way, we encounter spiteful non-believers: a finance chump advises, "Be sure to sell your stocks"; a cop jokes, "I knew I should have retired last year"; a hoodlum sneers, "Fuck Judgment Day. That shit ain't real. Fuck all you silly niggas!"
Still, the group slogs on, despite jeers, heat, and humidity (one woman is using an umbrella to block the sun — presumably so she doesn't die from skin cancer in the next week). At around 4:30 pm we arrive at Park Row and Broadway, where a reggae band plays as teachers and students hold up signs decrying proposed budget cuts. Hoping to harness some energy, more than a dozen Camping supporters force their way through the crowd, their giant foam-board signs smacking the heads of irritated protesters.
Somewhere along the way, I've lost track of Dan. But here he is, back in his makeshift RaptureMobile, circling Wall Street, City Hall, and Ground Zero on the tail of three vinyl-wrapped Family Radio buses. Teachers and union organizers are yelling at the Rapturites to butt out of their protest, while Dan just cruises past, honking and pumping his fist out the window. After a few minutes, police round up everybody with a Judgment Day sign and escort them off the premises — but not before one of them responds to a call from the podium about the "future of education."