High Desert Sketches
Thanks to AT&T, our world goes dark, again, and again
By GEORGE A. COVINGTON
Okay, I’ll accept that we are in a remote part of this great country of ours and I’ll accept that we are in the remotest part of the great state of Texas. We do call ourselves The Last Frontier and it has been stated that we are not at the end of the Earth, but you can see it from here. These facts are no excuse for AT&T to drop us into digital darkness 3 times since January.
“Every business in Alpine that accepts credit/debit cards was closed down for more than 51/2 hours because of the blackout” says Bill Ivey, an usually absentee proprietor of Ivey’s Emporium & Gift Shop. Bill, who is also owner of the Terlingua Ghost Town & Trading Post lost many sales from both ends of the county. “ You couldn’t buy groceries or gasoline unless you had cash in your pocket,” he adds.
“ An area stretching from El Paso county on the west to Seminole on the north and at least 100 miles east of Alpine was cut off from AT&T internet, long distance, and cell phone service. That makes the third time in 8 months that an area larger than New England has effectively been cut off from the United States of America”, says Ray Hendryx, the benevolent overlord and chief cheerleader for the Big Bend area Aggie tribe. While most Aggies have not reached the technological stage past two tin cans and some string, Ray’s sensitivity arises from the fact that he manages our two local radio stations. While his cell phone may consist of only two telepathic amoebas in a fruit jar he knows that many denizens of the Big Bend love to know what’s happening in the rest of the world.
When I heard that all banking transactions were closed down I suddenly feared that many of the older area residents might revert to their youth and remove money from the bank as before the introduction of law & order to our usually parched prickly pear part of paradise.
If we hadn’t gotten almost 4 inches of rain in the last month tempers might have flared to the point where AT&T might have found its few remaining employees in West Texas scalped, tarred and feathered. Luckily others stepped in to fill the void left by our desertion into digital oblivion. Big Bend Telephone, our locally grown telecommunications company did not lose either telephone or computer service.
This is the company that during our grass fires of last year used their bulldozers and heavy equipment at 3:00 am to stop a fire line that was headed, thanks to a wind shift, to the west side of Alpine. They stopped the conflagration 3 miles outside of Alpine and saved countless homes and other structures.
Also coming through was the Big Bend Amateur Radio Club. The ham radio operators helped re-establish medical emergency and other 911 services in short order. They also provided services during the firestorms when it was discovered that fire likes eating utility poles as much as grass. It was also discovered that being a Texas fire, it also enjoyed roast beef!
Even the mighty Alpine Avalanche, the newspaper of record for all of West Texas(okay at least the few blocks in all directions of its offices at 5th street and Avenue E) was affected.
My personal interaction with AT&T happened around seven years ago when I first tried to sign up for high speed internet service. I hired an experienced person to help me get through and it still took 5 frustrating days of talking to individuals in India. just before I was ready to give up we reached a voice somewhere in India. In all my experiences that voice on the other end of the line will identify themselves with an American sounding name. This time it was an irritated female voice and no name. When asked her name, she said it was Shiva. I suspected that no one in India would name their daughter after the goddess of Death and Chaos, but I decided that it was a perfect AT&T new logo(see below).
The solution to this dilemna is obvious. Our region’s importance to AT&T would increase immensely if AT&T removed its CAll Center from Mumbai, India to Alpine, Texas. West Texans can speak broken English as well as anyone on Earth.
George A. Covington has worked in the fields of law, education, journalism and disability rights. He considers himself retired from every one of them with the possible exception of journalism. He is a graduate of the University of Texas schools of journalism and law. He moved to West Texas in 1997 after a 20-year career in Washington, D.C. where he once served on the staff of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (Democrat) and shortly thereafter served as Special Assistant to the Vice President of the United States (Republican) 1989 to 1993.
Story filed under: Big Bend Blog