John Johnson outside Western Dental & Orthodontics. Photo by Kate Selig.

You can find 31-year-old John Johnson outside of Western Dental & Orthodontics at 2626 Mission St. There, he helps regulate who goes in, and maintains social distancing in the line of patients who wait outside for appointments to get their teeth cleaned, braces tightened or undergo more excruciating dental work.

He does this affably and, while you can’t see it under his mask, his manner and eyes make clear he’s smiling as he does his work.

Most days, his work is pretty straightforward, though last week two people on Mission Street — one with a gun — got into an argument. He hustled everyone in line into the office and called the police. (That was the most memorable moment from his job, and he hopes it will stay as such, he said.)

Although the Oakland native and resident likes his job, it’s not particularly satisfying, he says. “I want to feel like I’m making an impact, where I’m learning and constantly expanding my horizons,” he said. “I just feel like I have so much potential.”

And he’s nurtured it. Johnson recently wrapped up a degree in health science at California State University, East Bay in Hayward. He’s been in and out of school for the past 10 years, sometimes attending part-time, sometimes not attending at all. Between school, he’s also taken on odd jobs, such as a stint as an Uber driver.

“In the last few years, I realized I just needed to knuckle down, choose something and finish school,” he said.

The pandemic, he said, has given him time to think and slow down, as well as to try and figure out what’s next. He wants to keep learning, so maybe research would be a good fit.

“I want to contribute to something that’s life-changing, even if it’s by playing a really small role,” he said. “That would give me a sense of satisfaction.”


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