Postcard from Albuquerque: ‘Breaking Bad’ RV Tour a hit with tourists

By Kirk Kenney The San Diego Union-Tribune WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) New Mexico native Frank Sandoval had an idea to attract “Breaking Bad” fans on a RV tour around Albuquerque. As Kirk Kenney reports, Sandoval’s wife Jackie located an RV similar to the one used in the show, fixed it up and now fans flock — at $75 a pop — to the unique three-hour tour. Albuquerque The hit television show “Breaking Bad” is set here in Albuquerque, which has become a hub of film-making activity over the past couple of decades. Breaking Bad, which ran from 2008-13, centered around a fellow named Walter White, a mild-mannered high school science teacher who evolves into a ruthless drug lord in the city’s methamphetamine trade. All because White wanted to set his family financially for the future after being given a terminal lung cancer diagnosis. Those who haven’t seen Breaking Bad should put it on their to-binge lists. Now. It’s that good. Those who have seen the show, well, let’s just say some of them border on the fanatical, addicted enough that they make trips to town specifically to tour various filming locations made memorable in the series. Frank Sandoval, a New Mexico native, knew they would. His buddy, Jess Coffer, a set designer on Breaking Bad, wasn’t so sure. “I bet him a beer,” Sandoval said. “Loser had to buy the winner one beer for the rest of their lives whenever we went out.” The bet was that people would ride around town in an old RV, a 1987 Fleetwood Bounder, to see the sights. Why an RV? Because it appears in several memorable episodes, including one where White and his partner in crime, former student Jesse Pinkman, take the motorhome out to the desert so they can cook meth in privacy. White memorably gets down to his tighty whities for the cook (more related to that later). Sandoval’s wife Jackie located an RV similar to the one used in the show in Glendale, Ariz. They made a deal with the owner for $4,300, drove it back to Albuquerque, made another $16,000 in improvements so it would seat 14 people and they were in business. Fans flock — at $75 a pop — to the three-hour tours, which are now into their sixth year and appear more popular than ever. Executives from the show have told Sandoval “thank you for keeping this alive.” The tours run each day Thursday-Monday (twice a day in the summer). Those who climbed aboard the RV on Thursday included fans from both Northern California and Southern California, Texas, Michigan and Connecticut. They regularly get visitors from outside the United States as well. Dylan Wisneski, who also helps with the tours, gets a kick out of the reaction by some fans when their ride rolls up. “When the RV arrives, people will start running up to it,” Wisneski said. “They’ll start crying, hugging and kissing it. People absolutely love it. Some fans used to come in “costume” — in their underwear, like Walter White. “When we first started touring, we had people show up to take the tours like that,” Wisneski said. “Men and women both. We had to tell them that we have kids who take the tour sometimes, so you’re going to have to put on pants until the end of the day. … It was not a pretty picture sometimes.” Wisneski, who was born and raised in Albuquerque, said the show branded the city in some ways. “At one point, we were on ‘Cops’ almost every single episode,” he said. “I always tell people that we have our issues, just like everyone else, but it’s a lot better now.” But, he admitted, “You drive through town and in some places it does look very authentic and Breaking Badish.” Sandoval points out houses and other filming locations as he turns left and right through town. Video clips from the series play in between locations to set up the next stop. Amid it all, fans have a steady stream of questions: Where did the actors stay when they were here in town? How long did it take to film the seasons? What was Walt’s favorite (fill in the blank)? At one juncture, Sandoval pulls the RV into the parking lot of a restaurant called Twisters, where “breakfast burritos served all day” is promised on the sign out front. Fans recognize the location both inside and out, but not the name of the place. That’s because it was called Los Pollos Hermanos in the series, with signage changed during filming. Fans get a breakfast burrito and soda (they’re included in the tour price) at the restaurant. The fans from California made sure to sit and get a picture at the booth where Walt and Jesse had made their drug-dealing plans. Then it’s on to see some more sights. “I’m totally surprised it’s still going,” Frank said. So is his buddy. Sandoval will drink to that. For the rest of his life. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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