As they're being forced away, I hear two women complaining that "these kooks" will get more press coverage than than the public-worker picket.

The next morning, en route to wish my new friends a final farewell, I see a tabloid hawker brandishing a copy of the free daily, AM New York. I accept the rag and read the headline, scrawled across a full-page image of Camping's cadre: "Is the end nigh? Group hits NYC to proclaim May 21 doomsday."

Inside, as predicted, there's not a mention of the teacher's rally, or of education cuts.

Back with the group, we huddle on the sidewalk of 57th Street. I finally answer the question they've all been asking since I first showed up — whether I believe. I tell them, honestly, that I'm still doubtful about the Rapture thing. They nod respectfully. They'd explained it to me before: there's not enough time left to save everyone.

"This has been a lot of work for you guys," I say. "Walking for days on end, yelling at people, getting yelled at . . ."

One of them — just a kid, really — looks at me in dead seriousness. He has a lisp. He says, "Compared to what happened to Jesus — having stakes driven through his hands — this is nothing."

>> READ: more Rapture articles in the May 20, 2011 issue of the Boston Phoenix <<

Follow Chris Faraone on Twitter: @fara1.

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