Flea Market clock

JUST IN TIME: Tokyo antiques dealer Sugi Satoshi finds an ornate clock for $20. (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

5:21 a.m.

It's barely dawn, but the cars, pickups, vans, trailers and U-Haul trucks are lined up around all four sides of Veterans Stadium's parking lot, each vehicle filled with the detritus of American consumer culture. The engines are off, and vendors stand around sipping coffee, waiting for the gates to open. At the shoppers entrance, early birds wait patiently too, empty bags slung over shoulders and flashlights in hand.

5:40 a.m.

The gates open and shoppers spill in quickly, some sprinting. They push granny carts toward the far side of the parking lot, where the first dealers are starting to unload.

A mariachi hat, antique oil cans, costume jewelry, American flag memorabilia, dressers, used cowboy boots, Beanie Babies, Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, cast-iron skillets ...

5:51 a.m.

A dealer has barely unloaded two boxes of chandeliers from his beat-up van when a woman begins dickering over the price. He says $300. She offers $200.

"You know how much this would cost in a store? $250 -- I'm giving it away," he says testily.

"It's Venetian style," she says when asked why she's interested.

"It's made in Italy," he adds with a nod before turning to shout at a passing dealer: "I've got two things for you. Come back."

The shopper digs through the box, making sure all the glass cups for the chandelier are there.

"Sweetheart, it's all there," the vendor says, annoyed.

A 1930s tricycle, a stand-up bass, sheet music from "Strawberry Fields Forever," lawn figurines, surfboards, quilts, a spittoon, Persian rugs, cradles, a clarinet ...

6 a.m.

Linda Keene and daughter Emily Cox of Oceanside arrive to shop. "I've been going to that market for 20 years," Keene says in a later interview. "I know my way around." Her purchases include an 1867 handmade scrapbook, which features birds on the cover and pages made of homespun linen graced with beautiful etchings. "For $25, it was a total steal." For Emily: an antique "Sunday toy," a wooden Noah's ark carved in Italy. Price: $5.

6:41 a.m.

A man walks by wearing an electronic message board around his neck with a red crawl that says, "I buy old fountain pens." Walking in the other direction is an older gentleman asking everyone and no one, "Violins? Violins? Violins?" They pass each other, eyes scanning the growing crowd, neither paying attention to the Gen Y kid standing at a pile of used clothes, sniffing the armpits of an embroidered jean jacket.

Street signs, more clarinets, 45s, LPs, 78s, bobbleheads, napkins, croquet sets, G.I. Joe, Barbie, Mr. T, beads from Nigeria ...

7:20 a.m.