Breaking Bad was originally set to take place in Riverside, California. And while the Riverside I know is really filled with meth labs and rampant use of drugs, I'm pretty glad that the production went into a run-away-for-tax-purposes mode on this one and took it to Albuquerque. Because in the long run, ABQ became a character in the show itself and much like changing Bryan Crantson, you really couldn't replace how much of a role Albuquerque played in this show.
For instance, ABQ has a sort of different history than a lot of the other Southwestern cities. The Indian, Spanish, and American heritages collided in a different way than other areas for the era. Unlike Salt Lake city, that has a more industrious foot print, Albuquerque grew rapidly after WWII, but not as rapidly as Phoenix. So some of the older ways of the native people had a way of lingering around longer, and many still do.
You could see this influence in Santa Fe a lot. What with the selling of the native's sort of jewelry all over the place as well as the design of the buildings and what not. But in ABQ, you get to see how much the old ways have stuck around.
In general, ABQ is a strange place. The city is basically divided up into 4 quadrants, and I don't just mean, like, theoretically, all addresses in ABQ have a NE, SE, SW, and NW addendum on them. Which would be similar to how people in Los Angeles say THE in front of highway numbers. It's a pretty clear indication of an out-of-towner when they don't say THE 5 or THE 405 much like if you're looking for some place, you probably should know which direction it is in.
But after spending a couple of days in New Mexico, while it doesn't make me an expert in the area, that short time working directions in Albuquerque, it's pretty clear that the city is dictated by those distinctions. Especially since even mailing addresses have what section they are in. So when Walter White on Breaking Bad gave his address and didn't say NE at the end of it, I wondered if ABQ residents shook their fist.
There's a huge air force base in town, which contains a bunch of stuff including Sandia national labs. A location that Walter original worked before becoming a teacher. But this does show something else in the divides, that it's also a socioeconomic divide. The NE section is near the Sandia Mountains and it's full of white people relatively suburban like and safe. In fact, it seems like the closer you get to those Sandia mountains, the more likely you'll run into some sort of gated type of community. This is were Hank lives. Though Walt doesn't live too far from there in the NE section, but his is far more suburban.
To show you the difference, The location they shot Saul Goodman's office is within a mile of the White's House. The location is really a bar in a strip mall, so make of that what you will considering where Hank lives. For the most part, the majority of Breaking Bad takes place in the NE part
There's also a college in the middle of town towards the SE. So there's part of the whole college town situation going on. This is near the some what bad side of town. Jesse and Jane's duplex is located near to it. And really, it's the far more criminal heavy area of town. It's were I stayed when I was in town and it did have a bit of a higher crime rate.
Put it this way, the gun-death rate is 40% higher than the national average. This is a place that you can buy some heroin and some famous store's diamonds all on the same block. The police is often times corrupted and poverty is at a high. Crime rates are about 53% higher than natioanl averags, making ABQ a town plagued with mediocrity and most of all, they suffer through a drying river that was the whole point of settling here.
Let me be clear, when people talk about ABQ being a crime ridden hellhole, they aren't really talking about any one aspect of ABQ that really has been on Breaking Bad, besides Tuco's area, where Combo got shot and where Jesse was tossing out money from his window. In hindsight, I guess that is a number of places.
But this South East section of town is refereed to as 'the war zone' by the locals, but it hasn't been in the show all that much, which makes sense because most of the characters on the show are middle class suburb whites and wouldn't live anywhere near that sort of riffraff
Downtown... well, you know how in the movies Cars where Lighting McQueen lands himself into a town that looks pretty much like the ravages of time has fallen on them, only to see it get injected with a completely different look at night? I think that pretty much nails ABQ's look. At night, the Downtown area as well as the vast majority of the local routes just shine with signs for motor lodges and motels.
The brighter the better. But it's awe inspiring to take a drive through Downtown and the other roads of ABQ. You have a downtown area that is really filled with so much life and laughter at night. If the heat isn't radiating off the ground, it's the neon lights bouncing off of them to hit you with how vintage it looks.
On a side note, the local minor league team is called the Isotopes and it's directly named that because of the Simpsons. But to be fair, ABQ is full of nuclear testing and the Manhattan Project is a big part of its history, so it kind of has a double meaning. But they have a large statue of Homer and the rest of the family in the stadium. Isotopes are a minor league farm division for the Dodgers, so hey, if you're in L.A, you can take some comfort in that.
In short, the landscape goes from being filled with beautiful clouds to sometimes not having a single one up there. What makes it pop some more is that like many Western cities, there is a lot of terrain relief in ABQ. which makes it very noticeable where something is filmed, it does mean that the city has a different horizon, a different feel and look in every direction you turn.
Over all, it seems like Albuquerque attracts impractical dreamers and all those who failed at their dreams and just really don't understand why their plans never worked out. In every way, it's perfect for Walt, the character who seems to have had life hand him a bad hand time after time. He's an impractical dreamer who, much like most things in ABQ, just is living day to day in a world far too big around him.
Albuquerque is a beautiful place. I hope to visit there again, hopefully not too far in the future. It's filled with inspirational views as far as the eye could possibly see. You just have to remember one thing when going - Red or Green?