Sunday, December 23, 2012


 A few weeks ago I travelled to Porterville to assist Neilesh with the grand opening of his new (and first) dental clinic - Sweet Smiles. This was my first true foray into California's Central Valley. Until now, the Central Valley was just something I passed through when driving between San Jose and LA. This weekend, I got a better feel for the culture in this part of California.

The Central Valley's main industry is agriculture and the area is rural. Goods are cheaper but the economy is noticeably slower than California's cosmopolitan areas (SF, SJ, LA, SD). The lower incomes in the Central Valley contribute to the area's greater health care needs.

Getting to Porterville is a bit of trek. From Bakersfield, you have to take a 2 lane highway (65) or can take Highway 99. Porterville is a bit chilly this time of year, but it gets extremely hot in the summers (I'm told).

The night before, Neilesh and I swept the clinic office. On the day of the opening, we arrived early. Johnny and Sal (two of Neil's friends) brought their mobile grill to the clinic and grilled all day. We were visited by the mayor of Porterville, Terry Phillips (an ex-journalist who recently ran for Congress), the city's Chamber of Commerce, and Neilesh's family and friends. I helped wherever I could: brining supplies to the clinic, setting up the food table, helping with scheduling in the front office, and even did some light dental assisting. We treated 17 patients pro bono that day. It was tiring - I have a lot of respect for assistants, hygienists, and dentists for working on their feet all day long. That night, we ate from Johnny's grill and explored the nightlife of Porterville (limited but fun nonetheless).

The next day, Neilesh, Dan (Neil's classmate from UCLA and a dentist in the Bay Area), and I drove to Sequoia National Forrest for a day hike. Sequoia is only 1-2 hours from Porterville - talk about heaven in your backyard! I have been to Sequoia National Park a few times, but this is one of the best national parks in the country and is always a treat. We had a great lunch at the Wuksachi Lodge (Peaks Restaurant) and then set off to explore the giant sequoias. Long before we were born and long after we are dead, the General Sherman tree will still be growing.

We left the park at sunset and I had good pizza before making the drive back to LA. It was a great weekend I look forward to seeing Sweet Smiles grow from its auspicious beginnings.

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