If you recognize that quote, then you are going to understand why our tour of Albuquerque included visiting a fried chicken joint, a car wash, a junky motel, a fancy house in the mountains, and a remote spot on the side of a dirt road, in the middle of the desert, about 30 miles west of the city.
If you don’t understand any of that (and you can stomach a little thug violence in your TV) then I highly, HIGHLY, recommend you set aside about a month (you can do it in less if you’re committed) of your free time and watch all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad. I agree with many who’ve called it one of the best shows ever made.
Which is why… When we we’re finally, completely sure we will not be spending the night in Tucumcari, the side of the highway, or anywhere else but Albuquerque this Saturday night, the relief is met with exhilaration.
We reach Albuquerque at about 9pm and make our first stop at Access Road B next to the airport. My daughter Miriam and I get out and walk past a half mile of darkened empty rental car booths. It’s a good thing I’ve raised my daughter to read signs, because without her, I would still be waiting at the one staffed Hertz booth, wondering why they refuse to help me… Following her lead, we wind our way outside and through multiple parking lots and until finally we reach a booth where a nice young woman has our reservation on file. After describing to us the unique pleasures of “chili roasting time,” which has just started in Albuquerque, she brings us outside to our rented mid-size sedan. Before handing us the keys, she nonchalantly asks if we are interested in an upgrade. (I don’t know how they do it, but they present this option so calmly, while lazily looking around the lot, that you get this feeling that you’re about to get a better deal…) My interest is slightly perked. She suggests maybe a Ford Explorer, a Jeep, or a Challenger…
“A Challenger?!” (My daughter has no idea why I’m suddenly interested). A Challenger.
While I know and hardly care anything about cars, I DO know that the Challenger is one of the cars my husband always points out on the road, and in movies, especially if they are vintage. It’s one of his favorites from those formative teenage years. For a week now, my poor husband has been driving, an average of 10 hours a day, this 15 year old, wobbly, 30 foot RV, that maxes out at 73mph. And this woman is standing here, suggesting I can pull up tonight and present him with a Challenger… so I pick the red one. (Not a deal, per se, but so worth the look on his face.)
Happily seated in our red sports car, we try to pick up diner at the taco food truck Max has chosen for us while expertly figoogling his way around the city earlier this evening… but the road where the food truck is supposed to reside, is closed from all directions… so instead Miriam and I get a nice little tour of the downtown Albuquerque nightlife as we feel our way through the city. Then we zoom (and in this car, I really mean zoom) up I-40, where the towering mesa on the western border of the city sets you up for a spectacular view of panoramic city lights in the rearview.
Our resting spot for the next two nights is a fancy RV resort situated in the open land behind a big casino on the side of the highway just west of the city. As we wait at the gate to enter the RV park, a voice over the intercom says, “Are you with those crazy people from New York?” Apparently, we’re earning a reputation. The guy at this RV resort office is full of friendly personality, much appreciated after the day we’ve had. When we find our spot, the boys are waiting for us. Idling in the road, I watch Michael’s face as he registers in the darkening light what I’m driving, and while he still has a dumb look of disbelief on his face, I park in front of our RV and get out. “You’re welcome Boo” I say and accept his arms and happy noises as we embrace. Arm in arm we look around at the sky, the flat 360º horizon line, the miles of land, and the smattering of other RVs parked nearby. These temporary resting places each night are starting to feel just a bit like a home.
After changing out of our clothing, now dried with the sweat from our hours stranded in the desert, Miriam and I give the report about the failed food errand. Then, along with everyone else, we decide for the fourth night in a row, eating dinner just isn’t worth the effort, and all fall into a post flat-tire debacle, deep New Mexico sleep.
The next morning is lazy and slow. Pancakes have become our “we have a little extra time so lets enjoy it” cross country vacation breakfast of choice. But today, by Max’s suggestion, we decide to eat out, at “Java Joes.” I finally have the chance to do laundry, which is the size of two and a half loads by this point. Everyone’s towels, t-shirts, underwear and every dog and dish rag is all mixed together in one massive dirty, smelly, tangle. I throw in the first two loads, using up all the machines in the laundry shed, which is just about a 4 minute walk from our spot. In the meantime, Michael drives up to the entrance building of the park and purchases a new sewer hose for the rig. The old one got cracked when the sewer compartment was hit by flying rubber during the tire incident.
The weather report says rain for the afternoon, and Max has a list of places for us to visit. So, our necessary chores now completed, we settle the dogs and all squeeze into the 2 door car, ready to find our breakfast. The cafe where we’re headed isn’t random. It was used as the headquarters for the character Tuco, a “psychotic, high-ranking Mexican drug dealer” (according to breaking bad wiki), who features importantly in the first two seasons of Breaking Bad.
We order our breakfast burritos with a choice of red or green chilis (a standard question in all albuquerque restaurants) and are pleasantly surprised that the place is not at all what you’d expect from a joint who’s only association so far, is a psychotic drug lord… the food is delectable, the coffee is sophisticated, and the atmosphere is lively and bustling.
Caffeinated and stuffed, we head back to the car and search for our proximity to Old Town. This is one of the quaint, tourist filled Albuquerque destinations you won’t see even a shot of in Break Bad, probably because no local would choose to spend a minute of their time, or spending money here. But for us native jewelry and souvenir seeking yankees, this is the holy grail. The shops all prop their doors open, their wears spilling out onto cobblestone. Others lie their goods along the sidewalk, ancient Pueblo aunts and uncles and grandmothers sit, sipping coke and talking unhindered to each other while the busy shoppers look and touch and decide above them. At the head of the town square is an old mission church dating back to the days of the conquistadors. The car-less streets are nestled in around the square, some opening up to their own tiny courtyards, and others joined by archways and narrow alleys. Everything, from the walls, to the thresholds, to the gates, is adobe.
I buy a mustard colored New Mexico t-shirt for myself, a turquoise and red sun sticker for my car, and a pair of earrings with a picture of Frida Kailo languishing on them for my bestie. Miriam buys an aqua colored sweatshirt with the elevation of Albuquerque printed below the city’s name, and a few stickers for our scrapbook. Max purchases a pink translucent lollipop with a scorpion (edible?) crystalized inside, and together we pick out another Christmas tree ornament per our family vacation tradition.. So far this trip we’ve added a Dollywood neon sign, a wooden Palo Duro Canyon picture and now a bright yellow New Mexico sun ornament, to our collection. We spend almost an hour looking at the most beautiful pieces of Navajo jewelry, but we don’t feel quite ready to spend $100 (plus) on jewelry we’re too hot and tired to devote the rigor and meticulousness required of such a purchase. Finally, I lead the family on a search and miraculous find of the old town hat store where, 6 years before I had tried on, and fallen in love with the most exquisite panama hat (that looked so incredible on me that I have spent the last 6 years trying in vain to reproduce the effect). At the time I thought to myself, I have no business buying a fancy panama hat… when am I yachting…?! Upon my return from that trip, my boyfriend (now husband), who is a connoisseur and devotee of fashion, had dolefully explained to me that you should wear a fabulous hat… anywhere you damn well want to!
But it’s Sunday, so the store is closed.
By now it’s lunchtime (though we’re not hungry) and we want to check on our dogs and take down the laundry that’s line drying before the rain comes. So we head back towards the highway in our sports car. Max has been patient. So far he’s managed to glimpse the “crystal palace” (an old motel), Jane’s apartment, and a winnebago converted into a breaking bad tour bus. But he’s anxious to get to more of the Breaking Bad sights on his list. Number one on that list is a set of coordinates in the desert outside the city, that someone on the internet has labeled on google maps as “Heisenberg’s Blue Crispies. “ He wants to get there before the rain.
So far our trip has been loosely planned, and we’ve had to adjust rapidly at times to unforeseen events. But today couldn’t have been planned any more perfectly. In fact, when Michael mistakenly blows past our exit for the casino (where our laundry and dogs will now have to wait), it sets in motion a chain of events which, even once we are home, we all still feel was one of the most transcendent and exciting parts of our trip. For Max, what happened next will probably be one of his greatest memories for many years to come.
I look down at the coordinates Max has sent to my phone and determine it will save us time if we just keep driving to find the Heisenberg’s Blue Crispies spot now, and make our way back to the RV after we find it. The exit off the highway takes us down a paved road that has no houses, gas stations, or buildings on it at all. Not much is even growing along the road except a few brush grasses. A few more miles down the road and we don’t need a sign to know we’ve entered the reservation. Small farms, horses, and grazing cows now dot the road. However, we never see one human for our entire time on the reservation. After another four miles our route takes a turn onto a dirt road. As soon as we turn, the landscape changes again. Reddish mounds of rock begin cropping up all around us, flowering bushes and small trees are nestled in among the rocks, cows that we had seen in the distance, are now staring at us from just a few feet away as we speed along the road. The road bends sharply to the left and when we’ve come around the corner, the land changes again. We catch our breath. The mounds of red rock have suddenly become towering mountains all around us. Giant mesas spread across the horizon ahead. Cracks in the earth, where water would be flowing, if there were any, look like dried up earthen arteries. We are on Mars. Max is leaning towards the windshield now, his eyes darting around as we drive, scanning for familiarity among this otherworldly land. With one eye on my phone’s map, I assure him the spot is a little farther ahead. We are all smiling in delight, gasping in disbelief, and preparing ourselves for what’s coming.
“This is it.”
As soon as Michael can pull the car off the dirt road, Max is out the door and half skipping, half stumbling towards the mesa ahead. He describes later having an almost out of body experience there.
Among these rocks, this land that can swallow you whole in one gulp, the wild flowers and cacti, the dry dirt, and everywhere clouds as wild as you dreams, we all five stand, amazed.
Once we are there, it doesn’t matter that a film crew has stood in this same spot and caught the character Walter White stranded and naked except for his tighty-whities, an image that will rule the internet for decades to come. It doesn’t matter that fictional blood has seeped into this very dirt bringing the epic series to its most tragic and gruesome finale. But by following the devoted fans of the show who have searched and found the very spot where all that drama was filmed, and Max who sought out this internet wisdom, we receive one of the greatest gifts we could have ever imagined; a chance to stumble, unsuspectingly, upon this wonder. To leave the land of tourists and spectacles behind us, and to be alone with the land, to feel it’s danger and it majesty and take as long as we need to touch the green things, the rocks and the dirt, to smell the air, and the red dust and the coming storm, to run and experience the uneven ground beneath our feet and simply just to look at it all and feel it.
For about a half hour we explore, each of us taking dozens of pictures, and collecting flowers and rocks, anything to help us remember. This includes my obligatory family selfie, in which we are not fakely smiling, or realistically looking bored, but where we are each captured in our uninhibited weirdness, just like the land that surrounds us. And though we could stay here for hours, the storm clouds in the distance are telling us in un-ironic language,
“I AM THE DANGER”
And we listen. We pile back into our little red sports car, which has become iconic (for us) in it’s own way among this desert scenery, and stopping a few more times for roadside pictures that we just can’t pass up, we race out of the reservation, back to the highway, and back to our dogs. Though we know though we can never have enough of this beauty, we are fulfilled.
emails from the writer…
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