It's a few minutes after 7 a.m., and the parking lot's full.
So are the beer glasses, for the moment.
Normally, you'd think it's a bit early in the day to be quaffing a pint of ale — and especially on a Wednesday morning.
But with the World Cup soccer tournament going on full force, and the U.S. team facing elimination against Algeria, more than 100 soccer fans wedged their way into P. Wexford's Pub in north Modesto.
"Once you come in here, it's a whole 'nother time zone," said Matt Ernst, who founded the American Outlaws, a group of avid soccer fans who gather to watch the U.S. team and soccer in general.
So that explains it. They really weren't watching the game on Pacific Daylight Time. They were simply operating on South African Standard Time, nine hours ahead of us. Happy hour in Pretoria.
I suppose you could say they are truly ahead of their time, and in a way, they are. Many of the people there Wednesday are longtime soccer fans who played the game as kids and now coach their own. They grew up with it, just as others grow up with football or other sports. Consequently, they became soccer fans long before the ongoing World Cup made it the fad of the month for other U.S. residents.
"It really wasn't played at the youth level until my generation," said Suzy Powell, a 1994 Downey High graduate, two-time track and field Olympian and current U.S. record holder in the discus. "Now, you have more people with experience in the game. They know it."
Certainly, the U.S. women's 1999 World Cup win over China before more than 90,000 fans in the Rose Bowl generated tons of interest and drew more girls to the sport. Among them, 24-year-old Jenna Coates played youth soccer before going on to play at Johansen High, Modesto Junior College and then CSU, Stanislaus.
"My boyfriend ... ," she said. "He said, 'I don't know how you can be so into it. How can you get up at 6 a.m. and go to Wexford's?' "
These fans — unlike someone like me who never played soccer except in high school P.E. class — understand the nuances of the game, the ebbs and flows, their hopes rising as plays developed and then groaning in disgust when an official took away an apparent U.S. goal in the first half against the Algerians.
Ernst, who recently graduated with a math degree from California State University, Stanislaus, is a self-proclaimed soccer nut. He loves watching it but hates watching it alone.
"I enjoy watching it with lots of people," he said. "You can sit at home and be excited, but this is much more fun, to share the joy when they score a goal."
It didn't bother him at all to lose his job with an appraisal firm two weeks ago.
"With the World Cup starting," Ernst said, "it was perfect timing."
When the U.S. men's team reached the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, he couldn't believe the lack of fan interest in town.
"At Sidelines (a former sports bar), there were only about 15 of us," Ernst said. "It was disappointing."
It didn't help when the U.S. team bombed out in 2006, failing to advance from group play.
Expecting a better showing from the Americans this time, he approached the management of Wexford's, which has about a dozen TVs, and pleaded with them to open early during the World Cup.
"I promised them I'd do my best to get people in here," he said. "I bet that about 30 percent of these people (are) here today because of me."
The Irish pub routinely opens at 11, serving lunch and dinner. Management agreed to open at 6:30 a.m., adding breakfast throughout the World Cup.
After the United States' second-round tie with Slovenia, Wexford's added another TV to the patio area.
And Wednesday morning, Wexford's manager Ashley Cargill — who used to play soccer and loves the game — arrived at 6 a.m. to find fans waiting in a line that stretched to the end of the building.
Several wore U.S. jerseys or T-shirts. Cargill and Victoria Whitely donned jerseys bearing the name of Heath Pearce, a Modesto native who made it to the U.S. team's final cut.
One big fella, a repeat customer during the World Cup, wore a cowboy hat. At a soccer game?
When American Landon Donovan scored the game's only goal in the first minute of injury time, the pub crowd erupted.
"It hurt my ears," Powell said of the joyful noise.
"You got lucky," Welshman Andrew Bolt said with a wry smile to his U.S.-born friends.
Yes, it was worth being there at 7 a.m., breakfast for some and beer for others — on South African Standard Time, of course.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.