It all started quite innocently enough.
We had no intentions of taking it any further than just the one picture, you know, for recreational purposes.
But, somewhere along the way, we begin following the icy blue trail of the do-it-yourself Breaking Bad tour of Albuquerque, N.M.
We visit Albuquerque often for short getaways when we haven’t planned a big trip for the summer. This year’s main venture in town was to be a day at the BioPark. Simple enough.
Then, when we checked into our restored Route 66 motor hotel and saw the little lobby brochure:
Tours depart Thursday through Sunday mornings from Old Town.
“Can you believe this,” I said, holding up the brochure. “People actually pay to drive around in a kitschy RV and look at everyday houses and business, just because they were in a television show.”
“And for 75 bucks a pop, no less,” my husband scoffed, examining the information.
We’re not huge Breaking Bad fans. We’ve seen up to the third season, but had to take a break. Frankly, it makes me sad. Still, the writing, camera angles, and acting are excellent.
We tossed the brochure aside on the table and forgot about it until the following evening. We spent a fun, and hot, day at the BioPark, had an evening swim, ate dinner, and were traveling up and down Central, waiting to see some neon lights flicker on.
On the way, we passed The Dog House Drive In.
“That was in the show,” my husband said. “Remember?”
“It is a cool-looking place,” I said. Without even thinking, I grabbed the camera and did a drive-by picture.
Then we passed the hideously authentic old Crossroads Motel, where we actually thought we saw “something going down.” Turned out to be college kids getting pictures of a Breaking Bad site.
We passed Burt’s Tiki Lounge, seen in the show. We usually get Tiki bar photos, anyways, because we like tiki stuff. Nothing to do with Breaking Bad, we assured ourselves.
It was then we crossed that dreaded line.
“You know,” my husband said, “we at least need to see Walter White’s house. It’s a real home”
This made me a little nervous, since words like “private residence” and so forth, tend to mean, “keep away,” with good reason. What if the owners don’t want people passing by?
As it turns out, we later read the owners of the home are apparently perfectly nice people, but thanks to the idiocy of some fans, they are a bit apprehensive of people on their own property. I read stories of countless morons wanting to relive notable moments from the show by hurling pizzas on their garage roof, among other acts of sheer disrespect for a person’s domain. So, stay off their lawn and driveway, please.
Tour buses—and RVs, as the case may be—pass through all the time, so taking photos from the street is a common occurrence. The house is part of the tours. Still, I was getting increasingly apprehensive, because that’s what I do. This didn’t stop my husband, who got out his smart phone, and logged the street into the GPS. When we approached the neighborhood street, my husband thrust the camera my way and said, “Here, get it!”
I hastily held the camera out the window at elbow level and snapped a pic as we passed, not even looking through the viewer. The next moment played out like a scene from the show–if it were written by drunk cats.
“Did you get it?”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it!”
“No really, let me see.”
I handed him the camera. This was the result of my efforts:
My husband cocked an eyebrow as my kids peeked over his shoulder and rolled their eyes.
“Really?” he asked.
Since the house is at the end of a cross street, my husband took the camera from me, drove around the block, and shot a couple of pictures heading towards the house up the street. All done. Yet, as we turned right to leave the neighborhood, the garage began opening.
Both my daughters screamed.
“Dad! Dad! They’re after us! Drive! Drive,” my oldest demanded.
“Are we going to get shot?” my youngest asked.
I had visions of a bald, intimidating Bryan Cranston walking out of his home to come after the intruders. Nobody followed us because nobody cared we took a generic Google Map style picture of the front of a house.
The questions from the back seat, however, didn’t cease until we were out among the businesses, which included a stop by Saul Goodman’s office.
The sports bar, now called Sinners N’ Saints, still had Saul Goodman’s Office info on the door and window including the bogus phone number and the welcoming “Se Habla Español.” That was pretty cool, so we got some shots of it as well. I got out of the car for this one.
That was it, though. We didn’t care about Jessie Pinkman’s house, and we didn’t know who “this Jimmy guy” was, anyway. We assumed he was one of Jesse’s hooligan pals, so we ignored those sites.
That night, we wandered around the peaceful Old Town Plaza. Most businesses were closed, but we enjoy sites more than souvenirs. We passed the little shop of The Candy Lady of Old Town, the sweet shop that produced the official prop blue meth seen in the television show.
It was probably upwards on $10 a bag, my husband estimated. I argued they probably had smaller bags for a couple of bucks, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t buying.
So we thought.
The next morning, my husband began looking over his phone at breakfast.
“Jesse’s house is actually pretty close,” he said, “and it’s really pretty.” We found the plush little neighborhood where Jesse’s house was, as well as the corner where he shared a duplex with his ill-fated landlord-cum-girlfriend, Jane.
We stopped by Old Town one last time to get a photo of the girls at the beautiful blue mosaic at the entrances. There, behind the girls, at the entrance, was the tour RV, getting ready to take a group past several of the sites we had toured and more, including lunch at a restaurant called Twisters (the stand-in for Los Pollo Hermanos).
The crowd was diverse, from a couple of college-aged boys to several “Grandma Big-purse,” tourist types. We were able to peek in the RV and noticed it was modified with some nice motor coach style seats. I had to admit, these RV guys had a good thing going.
Right around the corner from the departing tour was the now-open Candy Lady. Next door was the Routes Bicycle Tours of ABQ, who offer a Biking Bad Tour. For those interested, by the way, the Albuquerque Tourism & Sightseeing Factory also gives tours (and has a great online site map), Red Door Brewing Company hosts weekly Better Call Saul watching parties on Mondays, and the iconic purveyors of geeky donuts, Rebel Donuts, makes some nifty “Blue Sky” Breaking Bad inspired donuts. There is also craft beer, cocktails, t-shirts, fine art, and more offered at various local businesses.
“We might as well take a look at what the candy people have,” I said.
The Candy Lady’s Shop was filled with everything from trays of fudge to licorice from all over the world, but the aura of its part in the Breaking Bad legacy was prevalent. The back room held a large tray of the blue rock candy and some prop “Heisenberg” (Walter White’s street name) hats and glasses, I assume were for those wishing to do a little cosplay. We didn’t ask.
The friendly couple behind the counter was happy to show us the goods. It turned out we were both right on the cost. The big bag, identical to the prop meth used in the show, was $10, but it, of course, included a few little dime bags for distribution to friends. There were also a few little $1 cotton candy-flavored bags available, as well. Yes, all these things are available from them online.
Thus, we finished our Breaking Bad adventure purchasing blue meth. The blue meth, to be exact. We got one $10 bag and a Los Pollos Hermanos shot glass filled with little bags, along with some little sugar skulls, a bag of German licorice for our teen, and a little VW bug filled with candy for our six-year-old.
I was happy just getting the little packs, but my husband noted, as the candy shop people explained, the $10 bag actually had, and I quote, “the Heisenberg clarity.”
As we headed back home via I-25, I got to thinking about why the heck we decided to spiral into this world of deviancy?
I’ve had relatives who have struggled horribly with drug addiction, and I know the pain it causes a family. I don’t even support recreational marijuana; that’s how extreme I’ve gotten from the experience.
So, why the heck did we spend a good evening and the following morning with our kids collecting photos and trinkets from a show about pair of meth dealers and their unscrupulous lawyer?
That’s just bad parenting. Right?
First of all, despite the meth-intensive show, neither the tours or the show itself advocate drug use. As a matter of fact, a good binge watch of Breaking Bad should do more than scare a person away from this lifestyle. Ironically, I would never let my kids, even my teenager, actually watch this show from which we traveled around seeing sites. One of the RV tour brochures even lists numbers for regional Narcotics Anonymous or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services hotlines for those who might struggle with or know someone with a drug problem.
Still, we dropped some green on a baggie of candy meth. Why?
I realized the reason when we got home and picked up where we left off on the show. We also started Better Call Saul, which I’m already enjoying way more than it’s predecessor.
“Oooh, so that’s Jimmy,” I overheard myself saying at the beginning. “We need to get his nail salon next time we’re up there. Bob Odenkirk’s the man.”
The main reason we temporarily fell in with this unsavory crowd for a day or two could be summed up in one word: Albuquerque.
Those who live in well-represented filming locations like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and even Albuquerque’s movie star neighbor, Santa Fe, are used to seeing their hometown as part of a television series or movies.
Those “badlands” from Albuquerque to El Paso are often relegated to a few westerns, a romp through Old Town, and a look at the borderlands from a wide-angle lens. There have been other movies and shows filmed in the area, but none that really show off the retro, quirkiness of making the Southwest your home.
It’s the murals on Central, the pottery light fixtures in the Route 66 diners, and the low camera angles that give you a sense of baking in the cloudless, yet amazingly, blue New Mexico and West Texas skies. It’s the neighborhoods, which vary from modern upscale to mid-century quaintness.
It’s the dilapidated strip malls mixed with the recently restored historic sites. It’s Blake’s Lotaburger. It’s the neon and Native American-inspired overpass art.
It was the references to the show’s “rival” DEA department, and my hometown, El Paso, and the gorgeous Sandia Mountains. More than anything, it’s getting beyond the tourist draws, and seeing the community off the main drag, good or bad, classy or trashy.
If we hadn’t ventured off the beaten path to see a few, non-descript homes or businesses, we never would have seen some beautiful gardens, creative public parks, front yard sculptures, and other hidden odds and ends that give any town its character.
It was also getting to see how a map and an RV can become a lucrative little business. It’s giving people, in search of a show about a very ugly side of reality, another reason to visit a very beautiful region of the country.
The main star of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul isn’t some actor. It’s Albuquerque, and she’s giving an Emmy-worthy performance.
In that sense, “breaking bad” can be a very good thing.