I just went to the dentist for the first time in several years. My university's health insurance plan contracts with Western Dental, and there happens to be an outpost of that chain very close to my apartment. I left the house at 9:52 am and made it there on my bike by 9:59 am.
Then I sat in a very strange, crowded waiting room for an hour and fifteen minutes. All chairs in the waiting room faced one direction, as though we were waiting to see a performance, but instead of an entertainer there was just a television playing the History Channel.
The marked contrast between this dingy storefront and the dentists I saw growing up in Orange County reminded me in a superficial way of the inequalities people face in health care. My childhood dentist, who I later heard was a recovering cocaine addict, had a plush office with brain-teaser toys in the waiting room. I got to learn and grow while waiting for them to pamper my teeth. Then I would doze off, lost in the pastel prints of Laguna Beach hanging on the walls of the exam rooms.
Later, when I became involved in that common form of cosmetic work, orthodontia, my orthodontist disgusted me by being a Newport Beach-style d-bag who flirted with the dental hygienists and whose vanity license plate on his sports car proclaimed his membership in the particular orthodontic dynasty to which he belonged. Redmond maybe? But still, there were spacious waiting rooms and magazines and toys and things.
In the Western Dental waiting room, only a crayon-covered table and chairs seemed oriented toward children, and the chairs were all stacked on the table like in an after-hours bar scene in a movie.
I used to see Western Dental ads on TV, and I remember thinking, gosh, I wouldn't go to a dentist I saw on TV. That'd be like going to Larry H. Parker or something.
My dentist was very nice, assuring me that he liked my backpack, my bike muscles (I think I was showing too much leg), and my choice of a career. He also told me that I have no cavities.
Can't argue with that, Western Dental!