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Albuquerque’s Addiction to 'Breaking Bad' Tourism

The small New Mexico city is still hooked on the show while real-life addiction to crystal meth continues to run rampant.

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The specter of Walter White still looms large.
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By John Lavitt

02/27/14

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With the Better Call Saul series spinoff scheduled to start shooting in November, Albuquerque’s love of the show that put the city on the map continues unabated. But questions still remain over how to reconcile Breaking Bad tourism with a crystal meth problem that continues to rip through the city.

A perfect example of the consumer weirdness in Albuquerque was reported in the Seattle Times. In an Old Town district store called The Candy Lady, one middle-aged woman whispered to another like a drug addict buying drugs from her dealer. “Five bags of the blue stuff,” she said.

As opposed to actual crystal meth, the customer squirrelled away five packets of a turquoise-tinted confection designed to look like the plastic bags of Heisenberg's infamous Blue Sky brand of crystal meth. In a city known as the methamphetamine capital of the Southwest, such a moment captures the deadly irony that plagues the thriving Breaking Bad tourist industry.

After all, how can a city effectively combat the rising toll caused by crystal meth abuse and addiction while at the same time celebrating an iconic show about the drug? The huge tourist industry that has arisen round Breaking Bad includes products and services that encompass just about anything a fan of the show could imagine. Months after the final episode and the death of Walter White, the zeitgeist of Albuquerque remains focused on his twisted story.

Ann Lerner, the city’s film liaison rationalized the conundrum. “It’s really amazing. People in Hollywood can actually spell Albuquerque now… (and) Breaking Bad really isn’t about meth at all. It’s about a desperate man making desperate decisions."

When you realize that Breaking Bad tourism and products have generated millions of dollars for struggling shops, restaurants, and hotels throughout the city, such rationalizations make sense. Still, with meth use among the city's youth increasing and the death toll rising, the question over how to reconcile the double standard must be addressed.

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