I went out on my day off and purchased a little master lock with a key. I have no patience for the scrolling numbers of the combination locks, especially if I ‘m not wearing my reading glasses. I haven’t used a public locker since high school, but there is a bank of them in the general employee lounge and I don’t like leaving my phone and wallet in my car.

I click along the few lockers without locks and they all have stuff in them. Food take-out containers, wadded up uniform shirts and aprons. I won’t be the one to displace anyone’s things.  I slip my lock on a vacancy in the kitchen staff’s locker room. Far smellier, but it’s only temporary.

Having settled in to the new job, the weekly schedule, the work, the people–I find myself making observations. Forming opinions. Also questioning my personal  philosophy on the state of our U.S. economy, education, the working poor, unequal opportunity, etc.

Without a political party affiliation I get the freedom  to argue the issues from both sides.  I have lived both sides. What I observe in myself are these glimmers of empathy, moments of genuine humanity– right before my animal instinct of self-preservation kicks back in.

Last week as I got to know a couple of my hard-working associates, struggling to make ends meet, to get a better schedule, go full-time–I started to feel indignant about the perceived unfairness of it all. How the company refuses to pay full-time benefits by only hiring part-time workers. That’s their business model.

As for me, as a part-time employee, I’ve been promoted to shift leader, replacing Lydia, who won’t have time anymore as she is enrolled in school. I’ve also been promised discussions on a management opportunity, due to my previous experience and obvious familiarity with the material. This type of work never leaves you.

I caught a moment of clarity this week. I talk to these young women, ambitious, energetic, intelligent, socially adapted and I think to myself that I would not want to see them waste their obvious value committing themselves full-time to this.

Waiting tables in Palm Beach County is not a career field. It was never meant to be. It’s a stop-gap measure to keep one from going broke. A trade to fall back on. I can’t speak for New York City or California Wine Country or parts of Europe, where fine dining may still be considered an art. I only know what I know. I do know this.

It would be a real tragedy if these women made this place their full-time job. This hunger and dissatisfaction must be there as a catalyst to move them forward. To “better” themselves, as my Nana used to say. This urgent desire to improve my own life, by my own hand is what motivated me to seek my first job at fourteen.

An entry-level position just about anywhere else would at least give some hope of advancement. But this? This is a dead-end job that only leads to another and another.

But I have to remember, none of this affects me. We all have to row our own boats. To find our own way. Nothing is guaranteed to any of us. Not even tomorrow.

So, when that promised discussion arises, I will negotiate a part-time management position, at the highest hourly rate they can manage, or no deal.

And the wheel keeps turning. This is Lydia’s last week on the schedule. And I’ve got my eye on her locker.