OAKLAND -- If the universe started with a big bang, Saturday's non-rapture qualifies as a big whimper -- or maybe just a big bust.
Though the tremendous earthquake and ascension into heaven of the faithful predicted by doomsday prophet Harold Camping did not happen, there were lessons to be learned from the most-hyped nonevent since Y2K.
"For those who were invested in this prediction, their world did end Saturday," said the Rev. Jeremy Nickel, the minister at Fremont's Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation. "They thought they were going to heaven, and they didn't. They may have donated all their money. They're going to be in a world of hurt."
Billboards guaranteeing the end of the world Saturday were almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks outlets in the Bay Area and the world and just as galvanizing to followers, who donated more than $100 million over the past seven years and drove RVs all over the United States to alert people of the coming rapture. Oakland-based Family Radio, with 66 radio stations across the globe, continued to broadcast prerecorded gospel talk Saturday, though its website was down.
The Alameda home of Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, was deserted Saturday, and he was not answering his phone.
Though things heated up later, the only pilgrims at the station's Hegenberger Road office Saturday morning were media and Keith Bauer -- who hopped in his minivan in Maryland and drove his family
"I had some skepticism, but I was trying to push the skepticism away because I believe in God," he said in the bright morning sun. "I was hoping for it because I think heaven would be a lot better than this earth."
Bauer, a tractor-trailer driver, began the voyage west last week, figuring that if he "worked last week, I wouldn't have gotten paid anyway, if the rapture did happen." After seeing the nonprofit ministry's base of operations, Bauer planned to take a day trip to the Pacific Ocean, and then start the cross-country drive back home Sunday with his wife, young son and another relative.
Meanwhile, in downtown Oakland about 200 atheists attended the American Atheists convention commemorating (mostly mocking) the rapture.
"Here's the takeaway," said Richard Hodill, of San Mateo, who staffed the registration table at the atheist convention. "Learn to be a discriminating and critical thinker. Base your life on evidence-based reasoning. Religion exploits people to their detriment."
Indeed, the ever-irreverant Bay Area reacted to the non-rapture in its own fashion, with End of the World garage sales, a zombie crawl to raise money for Oakland libraries and a gathering Saturday afternoon at Family Radio headquarters that was a cross between a Raiders tailgate party and a Grateful Dead parking lot celebration.
After a slow beginning to the day, activity at the headquarters picked up in the evening. About 20 members of Calvary Bible Church of Milpitas made a presentation offering support to any of Camping's followers left distraught by the nonfulfillment of the prophecy.
As evangelists preached, the Phenomenauts, a local band, flew helium-filled adult blow-up dolls on fishing poles while the media recorded the event.
Other observances were a bit more tame.
"What better place to observe the rapture than in a bar with a drink in your hand?" said Rebecca Auerbach, who organized a party at Jerry's Cocktail Lounge in her Richmond neighborhood.
Less than a mile from Camping's Alameda home, a UC Berkeley anthropology graduate student held a rapture moving sale, advertising on Craigslist: "If you are not planning on getting raptured tomorrow, then you might need some stuff."
"I think people are still into private possessions," said Mather, who declined to give her last name. "The sale went great. I'm feeling lighter already, although I'm not levitating anywhere."
There was a happy resolution in Boyes Hot Springs, a town near Sonoma, where a Family Radio believer William Tinker relinquished his cockatoo, Senegal parrot and cat to a county animal control officer. Tinker had threatened to kill his pets in advance of Judgment Day, but with the help of the Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, he turned his pets over to authorities, said rescue volunteer Vincent Hrovat.
There was one thing Christians and Muslims, Unitarians and Catholics all seemed to agree upon with regard to Camping's prediction.
"In my view it just doesn't square with Biblical revelation, which clearly suggests that according to the 25th chapter of Matthew's Gospel we neither know the day nor the hour that the end times will begin," said Gregory Chisholm, pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church of Oakland.
"So if one were really trying to help people prepare for the end times, one would counsel people to minister to the sick and feed the hungry and visit those who are in prison, because that's exactly what the Lord says to do," Chisholm said.
A Muslim spiritual leader agreed.
"Our understanding is the same as the Christian understanding in the Bible. No man knows when the end will come," said Khurram Shah, president of the Contra Costa County chapter of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Bay Point.
Given that Camping already unsuccessfully predicted the end of the world in 1994, Shah's words seemed to ring true.
"I don't think people should live in fear. If I didn't think positive, I wouldn't be able to do what I do," said Lisa Guichard, who has been Camping's neighbor for more than 50 years. Guichard is a special-education teacher at Oakland High School, working with severely handicapped children.
"I grew up with the Campings. They are hardworking people, and I respect his Biblical scholarship," said Guichard, standing at the gate of her home. "But I don't necessarily think in such apocalyptic terms.
"If you live every day to its fullest and do the right thing, when the world ends, you'll be all right."
Staff writer Matthias Gafni and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Janis Mara at 510-301-8373. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmara.