September 28, 2022 703 PM
MARFA — Chaos reigned in Marfa last Friday morning as some locals woke up, looked at their phones and hit snooze. Somehow, phones around town — and around the tri-county area — had set their automatic time to Mountain Time, leaving some cellular users in the past and some in the future.
Last year, a similar problem wreaked havoc on the tourism industry in Terlingua after a new phone tower was accidentally configured to Mountain Time. Locals and tourists alike initially attributed the glitch to their proximity to the border — the neighboring state of Chihuahua is an hour behind. By the time everyone figured out what was really going on, the tower techs had departed, leaving locals on the American side at the mercy of phone company bureacracy.
Unlike the situation in Terlingua, this weekend’s time warp in Marfa affected only some mobile users and didn’t affect everyone at the same time. Judd Foundation archivist and recent transplant Erin Schneider heard about the glitch from friends before it happened to her. “I woke up the next day and I was like, ‘That’s weird. It doesn’t feel like the right time,’” she recalled. “My stove clock said something different.”
The glitch quickly divided locals into camps — Android users versus iPhone users, AT&T customers versus Verizon. “I had plans at a certain time with someone who has an Android phone and I asked him what time it was, and he had the right time,” Schneider explained. “I kept my eye on it, and eventually switched my phone time to manual.”
Mayor of Alpine Catherine Eaves confirmed that the problem wasn’t just a Marfa problem. She was out of town when the drama unfolded and it seemed to peak over the weekend, when city offices were shuttered. Her constituents took to Facebook to express their confusion. “I heard some people were late for work because of it,” she said.
Marfans were less vocal online about the glitch, relying instead on good old-fashioned word of mouth. Hannah Delagi, a baker at Aster, opens shop around 6 a.m. — she was one of the first in town to sense that something was amiss. Initially, she gaslit herself into thinking she’d forgotten when Daylight Savings Time sets in. “I knew it’s in November, but I still Googled it,” she said.
Over the next few hours, coworkers staggered in for their shifts in various states of lateness. Customers started coming in around 9 a.m., dazed and confused. “We called it the wormhole,” she said. “It was so bizarre. People came through town and they were like, ‘We have no idea what time it is, but we heard Marfa was kind of weird.’ I had to tell them, ‘This is not normal. This kind of s — happens in Terlingua, but not here.’”
Over the weekend, a process of elimination gradually suggested that AT&T customers were suffering the most from the glitch. On Tuesday, an AT&T spokesperson responded to a request for comment. “Our technicians have corrected the time zone display for wireless customers in the Big Bend area. We apologize for the inconvenience,” they wrote.
Though the situation has calmed — for now — the Aster crew urged the organizers of this weekend’s Trans-Pecos Festival to caution out-of-town visitors before hundreds of people showed up late for bucket-list performances. Then they brainstormed amongst themselves how they’d avoid similar snafus in the future. “Somebody said we needed watches,” Delagi said. “I said we needed sundials.”
Schneider set her phone clock to manual and had the same revelation. “It was definitely weird to be reminded how much we depend on technology,” she said. “It’s not always there for us.”