To understand the swift and sudden impact of social media, cruise by the Chevron at Pelandale Avenue and Sisk Road in northwest Modesto this morning.
You'll likely see a group of people maybe even a sizable one protesting against the store management and specifically against an alleged anti-military employee.
They will be there to support Kelly Kjelstrom, a 41-year-old veteran from Modesto. Monday night, he stopped by the gas station-minimart for a soda after work. About two hours later, he posted on Facebook that he'd been dissed by a store clerk who, in essence, claimed Americans should get out of his country whichever that is.
Kjelstrom told me he served in the Navy in 1989-90, the Army National Guard in 1993-94, and has been a flight medic in the Air Force Reserve ever since. He works as a paramedic for American Medical Response.
His Facebook posting implores friends to "Boycott the Chevron at Sisk and Palendale (sic). they are anti military. To the point that the person working there saw my military ID and said that they don't serve my type there. Wow. Really. OMG at first I thought it was my AMR uniform. But then he said that my people should leave his country. Then I told him he was welcome to leave my country (and) go back to his."
Despite the strong wording of his post and I repeat "
said that they don't serve my type there
" the clerk did not deny him service, Kjelstrom clarified.
"I was disrespected not denied," he said.
Kjelstrom said he didn't inquire about the store clerk's country of origin, nor did he note the clerk's name. He simply canceled the sale.
"I pretty much left," he said.
Kjelstrom told me he'd experienced anti-military or anti-American sentiment overseas.
"But I didn't expect it in my own country," he said.
The posting drew a huge amount of responses and comments, including one backing the clerk's free-speech right and another from a fellow veteran who questioned its validity. "So I am to believe this story because it is on the Internet?" the latter response read.
But other Facebook "friends" soon convinced the doubter that Kjelstrom is to be trusted. About a half-dozen people protested in front of the station Tuesday afternoon while others used Facebook to organize today's presumably more substantial protest. Many indicated that they will attend, with signs and flags in hand.
"I didn't realize I had that many friends on Facebook," Kjelstrom said.
I went to the station Tuesday afternoon and spoke with the manager, Barinder Hundal. He denied any such incident leaving himself a little wiggle room. "Nothing happened while I was here (Monday)," he said.
He said the station welcomes all customers.
"We never refuse service to anyone," he said. "We serve every single person in the military. We have homeless people who come in and they are our customers, too."
Indeed, it would seem pretty stupid for a clerk to insult a customer in such a way. But such rudeness certainly does happen, and not just by people who have come here from a country where we have stationed troops or, you know, invaded.
Customer service is a lost art, but that's another topic for another time.
Jackie Phillips, one of Tuesday's protesters and the mother of an active-duty Marine, said she quizzed another of the store's clerks about the incident. "(The clerk) wouldn't deny it," Phillips said.
Kjelstrom said his beef is with the specific clerk who insulted him hence insulting all who have served the nation and with a store that would hire such an employee. Most Chevron stations, including the one at Pelandale and Sisk, are independently owned.
"This isn't a Chevron thing," Kjelstrom said. "I spend thousands of dollars a year on gas and I'll still buy Chevron. Just not at that station."
Sean Comey, a spokesman for the corporation, said he is investigating the allegation but couldn't confirm its accuracy as of Tuesday afternoon. The security video was inconclusive, as instant replay goes.
"We take allegations of discrimination seriously," Comey said. "We have been unable to find anybody directly involved who witnessed it."
He did, however, suggest visiting Snopes.com, a rumor confirming and debunking Web site. It lists a number of similar allegations involving stations not just Chevrons from all over the country. Snopes determined all of them to be false or probably false.
Kjelstrom, though, told me he'd never heard of Snopes.com and knew nothing about similar stories elsewhere.
The disrespect happened, he said. So will today's protest, thanks to the power of social media.
They passed the word on Facebook, and it didn't take long to drum up a volunteer army.
Chevron's Sean Comey said he would like to speak with anyone who was involved or witnessed anything at the independently owned station. Comey can be reached at (925) 790-6804.
Columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.