This is the first substantive post for quite some time here on ole’ Dinosaur Bear, and despite my current residence in Reykjavík I’m actually going to be talking about Albuquerque, New Mexico. See, in order to get to Iceland I need to share a few other stories. The first of which was when Meem, Valentino, and I went on an adventure to Albuquerque – henceforth ABQ because who wants to spell that name over and over.
This story takes us back to July, when I needed to go out to ABQ to take the dreaded bar exam. However, this post is not about the bar exam. So if you weren’t looking forward to that, then you can rest easy (conversely if you’re a neurotic fellow examinee looking for commiseration, come back later when I will devote an entire post to the bar exam). No, this post is just about having fun out in the ABQ sunshine.
For starters you might be wondering why Valentino came with me rather than Tristen. Well, it’s true that Tristen is the law student whereas Valentino is the forestry student. However, we have a bit of a “[D]Rad Rotation” that happens when I go on adventures. This time it was Valentino’s turn to go on a bit of an adventure, as the last time I’d done something with Valentino was my trip to Washington D.C. So when the time came to fly out to New Mexico Valentino quickly wedged himself down into my backpack, which is one of his most favorite things about traveling.
As far as flying goes things went pretty smoothly on the way out to New Mexico (at least for me, Meem had some delays). One nice thing about the trip was that we had booked a hotel right next to where I’d be taking the bar exam.They were even doing some filming right next to the hotel for a forthcoming TV show called “The Brave” – or I guess it isn’t forthcoming anymore. Despite it literally being in the middle of a public forum they told me I wasn’t supposed to take pictures, but fuck you I’m a bus.
The bad news is that the hotel was going through some substantial renovations, though it didn’t end up being that big of a deal in the end. I did find the state of the elevators to be quite funny though. The part of my brain that had engulfed itself with negligence claims and torts had a heyday with the elevators.
You might be wondering why Meem came. Meem wasn’t taking the bar exam, she just came because she plubs me. I invited her, and it just so happened that she needed to go to California for work anyways, so it was good timing. But that is why Meem was there. Speaking of which, when Meem finally made it to our hotel she brought some donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts. Valentino was pretty happy.
After Meem had a chance to get settled we went and had dinner downstairs in the hotel restaurant since we weren’t wanting to wander too far that first evening. Just a quick trip down the death traps and we were there.
After dinner it was mostly just chilling in our room since I had to get up early and we were all tired from out travel. We did have a good view to take in though (as we marveled at how little traffic ABQ has – it’s crazy really).
After some last minute reviewing on my part we all got tucked into bed right before 10pm, which is nothing short of a miracle considering that Meem and I have been known to feed off each other’s night-owliness and talk until 4am. Valentino is a responsible bear though, so he probably helped keep us in line.
While the bar exam on the whole is a
shitty magical fun experience, one nice thing was that since my hotel room was literally like 6 minutes from the bar exam room. Like, seriously, there was a tunnel from our hotel to the convention center where I took the exam (though I didn’t find it until the second day).
Of course there was a legitimately haunted door down in the tunnel that just kept opening and closing itself, over and over – for three damn days. It was made even more creepy because I never saw anyone else in that tunnel and by all accounts there should have been someone in that tunnel as it lead to a parking garage, hotel, and convention center.
Of course besides the haunted tunnel the proximity also meant that I had plenty of time to come back to the hotel room for lunch. So that’s what I did each day. Valentino was always waiting for me, and Meem usually was though sometimes she was off on her own adventures!
Normally “lunch” entailed leftovers from the night before, but that was fine as I generally wasn’t especially hungry. Sometimes I’d have coffee too since they kept it subzero in the exam room. Mostly I’d just use my brief lunch break to look out the window and decompress a bit.
At the place were had the best version of that mystery drink they had some signs in the bathroom that I really liked, especially the bits about “Life’s a bitch, some days it has puppies” and “It goes on” (as does the world).
I think it was that evening that we realized the ice machine on our floor was broken. One of the hotel employees noticed Meem trying to get ice and said he would bring us some ice. Bring ice he most assuredly did. He brought a huge bucket of ice, I think one of those fancy buckets they put champagne in. Valentino approved.
You might have to make it bigger to see them, but they are there! I think there were 4 or 5 in the sky that morning, so nowhere near ABQ’s massive International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place in October and has over 500 balloons each year (making it the largest such festival in the world). Still, for us simple Midwestern folk it was a good way to wake up. Meem sprang forth from bed like a spring chicken.
After the exciting morning it was back to bar exam things, and during lunch Valentino was dutifully waiting for me at my little “Good Mojo” shrine.
The items on the desk deserve a little bit of explaining. Valentino he is pretty obvious, he’s your friendly neighborhood polar bear! The paper also isn’t really anything special, it’s just some instructions for bringing your ticket to the bar exam. I just placed it on my “Good Mojo” table so I didn’t lose it. It’s the dice and pencils which have some interesting backstories. I’ll go in chronological order starting with the Dixon Ticonderoga Black™ pencil on the right. Yes, that is the type of pencil, and yes – pencils are serious. freaking. business.
Now, I didn’t even get to use my pencils on the bar exam. They don’t trust you to bring in your own pencils since you might, you know, scratch the entire 926 pages of the Restatement (Second) of Contracts on your pencil or something. However, pencils are still serious business, and that Dixon is a Gawd Damned War Hero. Its term of service goes way back to the LSAT days (yes, the test that seems impossibly bad until you realize how much worse the bar is). The Dixon has survived several deployments, and I don’t mean pansy-pushing desk work, I’m talking no-man’s-land-10,000-lives-per-yard-trench-warfare of standardized testing. If Pencils could suffer PTSD, that Dixon would have been the star of Apocalypse Now. So, despite being retired like 5 times over, the Dixon came out of retirement to lend moral support to me on the bar exam.
The pencil on the left is an OOLY Ninja Black Wood Pencil™. You’ll notice that the OOLY hasn’t been used. That’s because it’s a ninja. Whereas the Dixon is a morphine infused beach storming sword wielding bad-ass, the OOLY is the tactical assassin who marks bubbles, without even being sharpened. That’s because a true ninja kills not with their lead, but their heart.
Combined, my pencils unleash a hell onto standardized tests that would leave even Lucifer crying like the bitch he is.
Seriously, those pencils are undefeated.
Anyways, as for the dice – those are actually Valentino’s! They come from the HLS Public Interest Auction, specifically the one from my 2L year (which I guess was the last one since they don’t do it anymore for some dumb reason). Now, they weren’t really giving the dice away. This was more of a “Valentino sees dice, Valentino wants dice, dice are now Valentino’s.” Despite being small, Valentino is still a polar bear, and you don’t mess with polar bears (seriously they are huge). So Valentino took the dice. I didn’t really feel bad considering they were dice, there were tons of them, and I had paid $150,000 to be there. So the dice are more of a Valentino talisman. Whereas the pencils are my lucky objects, the Boys use the dice as their lucky objects. So Valentino was adding his lucky to my lucky for some ultimate luckiness.
The bar exam didn’t stand a chance.
Another fun thing about Valentino is that he tended to stay in the hotel during the day, even when Meem and I were both gone. Normally he is an adventurer, but I think ABQ was just a little too hot for him in July and since we were only there for a few days he didn’t feel like trying to acclimate to the weather (can’t say I blame him). So he sometimes got a bit restless when I was out, and by the time I got back for lunch he would end up in weird places.
One night we got to watch a heck of storm roll in across the desert, which resulted in Meem and I trying to get awesome lightning shots. We failed, though Meem was ultimately much more tenacious than I was about it.
The next day was the last day of the bar exam, so Valentino and I started off with some yummy yogurt from the hotel’s cafe. It was kind of dumb, the cafe didn’t start serving anything beyond basics until like.. way after it opened, then it proceeded to close right after lunch. So breakfast often consisted of yogurt left over from the day before, but I’m not going to complain too much, it was yummy and it was cheap.
So that evening we had another yummy dinner, and while it seemed like it was going to blow in a storm (I can’t remember if it ever did) we didn’t get rained on during our outdoor feast, and we even got to see a mini rainbow! [There’s a rainbow outside my windows as I write this too, yay! – Iceland gets tons of rainbows]
I really like eating outside, but I’m super picky about it. I don’t like cold, or heat, or humidity, or precipitation. Basically I’m a scrub. However, this was good weather (until the end, when it got windy) and good food.
The next day we got to sleep in, FINALLY! 😀
But not too much. I had a clerkship interview to get to. So I had to Suit Up® and head to the federal courthouse. I realized really quick that my Midwest/New England suit was not well suited to New Mexico summer heat. Fortunately the courthouse was like a 10 minute walk from the hotel, so I was only half dead by the time I got there. I didn’t even up getting the job though, so maybe I hallucinated the entire interview and in reality I was running screaming naked around the courthouse from a dehydrated delirium until I got tazed. Who knows.
After the interview Meem and I decided to have some fun, so we headed out to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center which is a REALLY cool center owned by the 19 Indian Pueblos of New Mexico.
During the second dance Meem got a call, or text, or pigeon, something, from the owner of a certain Breaking Bad RV Tour Company. The message? Spots had opened up on the afternoon tour. Meem and Taco Excitement to Overdrive.
We’d originally had tickets to the afternoon tour, but due to the clerkship interview we had to cancel them. Well, then the clerkship time and location got changed anyways, but by that point the tour was sold out. So while I had made peace with not getting to follow in the footsteps of my favorite meth lord I was super ecstatic to get to go after all. So we packed up our stuff, stopped through the Cultural Center’s gift shop for some goodies (Meem got an awesome bracelet) and then headed off to the Breaking Bad tour since we didn’t have much time before it started.
The tour started right near the spot we had eaten dinner at the night before so we were at least conceptually familiar with the area. We got briefly lost but then literally ran into the owner of the tour company as he was walking out of a store and Meem was on the phone with him. Ah destiny! We were meant to be on that tour.
I’m going to take a moment to stop here and say that what follows is a brief recounting of the Breaking Bad RV Tour. If you know me, you’ll know that I LOATHE spoilers with the fury of 1000 dying suns. Legitimately, I abhor spoilers to an unnatural level. As such, I sincerely try to avoid spoiling anything as much as is humanly possible. So I want to warn you that if you haven’t watched Breaking Bad (BB) and/or Better Call Saul (BCS), first, go watch them. Second, I’m going to be as non-detailed as possible with the tour, but by its very nature there are going to be some spoilers. So I’d suggest not reading what follows if you want a 100% pristine take on BB/BCS. Again, I’ll go light on the details, but the photos in and of themselves will sort of spoil something.
Anyways, back on track.
As soon as we walked around the corner, boom, there she was – a 1986 Fleetwood Bounder recreation vehicle and motor home, with signature yellow and orange stripes. The same kind as featured on BB.
Now it’s not the RV from the show, that one is owned by Sony and is actually going to be in the Smithsonian! Yes BB is that good, fight me brah. However, this is literally the same model, so it’s as close as you can get. Plus, other BB tours take you around in a shuttle bus or something, why do that when you can use an RV which replicates the one from the show in exacting detail?
I’m talking, autismo level detail (and I know such details as an autismo myself). Heck, they even got things right that a lot of BB fans forgot about – case in point the crossbow bolt from Season 5 Episode 1.
Meem and I were he first ones to arrive. The owner had asked us to show up early since we hadn’t actually paid and he was just holding our spots on a good faith basis. That was fine, it gave us more time to explore the RV before the rest of the group showed up!
Yes, there were a lot of props/memorabilia from the show that they had placed inside that obviously weren’t in the show, plus the required stuff like, you know, seats. But on the whole it was a very faithful recreation of the infamous mobile meth lab.
Another little detail that the RV had that another tour wouldn’t have dared recreate was a lack of A/C. Yep, just like in the show. In fairness the RV was supposed to have A/C, but they were having secondary generator issues that day. So we got to cruise around ABQ in the summer heat in a 1986 RV. Truth be told, it didn’t bother me in the least. If you were super heat sensitive it probably would have sucked, but when they were moving and we had the windows open it wasn’t that bad. Plus I found the prospect of trudging around New Mexico sans A/C just like Walt and Jesse to be kind of a cool, or rather, neat – cool not so much.
After getting everyone one board we were on our way!
One thing that I really liked about the tour was not only that you got to see almost all the super famous and recognizable places from both BB and BCS, but also some lesser known locales, such as this area which was converted into a Winter-time Philadelphia for Mike to “break bad” in.
Other areas were easier to place in the context of the show, but more difficult to visually match with their in-series counterpart. For instance, I immediately recognized the junk yard, but struggled to think of which angles and areas we actually saw in the show.
Los Pollos Hermanos, or Twisters in the Matrix, former dominion of a one Gustavo Fring. We actually got to eat here as part of the tour and that was pretty bad-ass. Twisters is a burger and burrito place, and we had burritos.
In the interest of time you don’t stop at every spot on the tour, some you just drive by such as Wendy’s hotel.
Other locations you don’t stop at because the owners get pissy and don’t want you there. I guess I can see it from their perspective, but at the same time I find myself having little sympathy – especially for the BCS locations when they already knew that it was going to be a hugely popular.
However, other locations have completely capitalized on their BB/BCS fame. One such example is the car wash from BB.
They have an entire gift shop inside the car wash devoted to BB/BCS stuff. They also tell you to have an “A1 Day” which is pretty neat.
Right across from the car wash is the billboard they used for the first “Better Call Saul” advertisement you see in the series.
The penultimate stop on the tour was the famous White household. So famous in fact that a quick Google search will yield countless results about visits to the house which range from people raging about the owners being assholes, to throwing pizzas on the roof, to the owners being portrayed as decent people after all.
Since we were with a tour – and the tour operators (who were extras in the series!) seemed to know the homeowners – we didn’t have any issues. It was really awesome to see the actual house, though at the end of the day it’s a privately owned house, so I’m not sure it’s anything I would have went out of my way to see. However, to see in as part of a BB tour is a must, and to do it in an appropriate RV is even better. And no, we didn’t throw a pizza on the roof – that’s a serious waste of pizza.
The last stop on the trip was the Super-Meth-Lab/industrial laundry, which looked pretty damn much exactly like it did in the show, minus you know, the whole super meth lab in the basement (there is no basement).
So if you’re familiar with BB at all, you know that blue crystal meth is a huge plot element. Well, ABQ denizens being industrious as they are have created a blue rock candy which they distribute in little bags – and it looks pretty much exactly like the crystal meth in the show (so much so that the TSA has confiscated it from people). They offer these on the tour, you can either buy them or win them via trivia that takes place on the tour (I won a Heisenberg sticker!). So, basically there is this big bag full of smaller drug bags of crystal meth look-alike candy on a ghetto 1986 RV in ABQ.
I noticed as we were driving around that drivers were largely reacting positively to our presence, my guess is that they either know the owners or were glad for the commerce BB/BCS brought to the city. Either way, one car that was next to us honked and there was a little girl in the back seat who was waving at us. So our driver was waving back, but when we pulled up at a stop light he signaled to the other car to roll down their window. After they did he proceeded to throw a bunch of crystal meth bags into their car for the little girl. It was really funny, because it looked 100% legit like a drug deal, complete with the old junker car and the old junker RV. To make matters even better, some of the bags fell on the ground, so they were picking up all this crystal meth candy off the road. The little girl got a kick out of it, plus its yummy candy. Just your friendly neighborhood meth dealers getting 8 year old children addicted to crystal.
In addition to the crystal meth they also had some BB t-shirts for sale and I really wanted one, but they didn’t have any in my size. So Meem and I bought some
drugs candy. In the end they ended up giving us some of the bags as well, I think because the A/C was broken and they were worried about Trip Advisor reviews. Have no fears dear tour people, it was an awesome tour even without the A/C.
I give it 11/10 – would have breakfast again.
—END SPOILER ALERT—
After the tour was over we were dropped off in Old Town ABQ.
After that we had some dinner and then made our way back to hotel. I had to get up at freaking 3am to make my flight. Since I wasn’t sure what to expect with my crystal meth I let Valentino carry those since nobody fucks with a polar bear.
I ended up having plenty of time as there were all of like 5 people in the entire ABQ airport (also featured in BB, by the way). However, the TSA in all their boundless genius had 8 employees working on the Pre-Check Line which had no people in it, whereas they had one person for the entire regular line. So while there wasn’t hardly anyone there, the normal line was being processed so slowly you could have measured it in geologic time. I’m not a social person, especially not at 4:30am. But me and my fellow travelers had a lot of self-depreciating laughs at how the TSA had divided up their employees.
The trip home was pretty straightforward. I had a pretty long layover on the way back, but fortunately there were only minimal delays on top of that. Southwest freaked me out at first because their system made some sort of error and displayed a 5 minute delay as five hours for about 20 minutes. It ended up being more than 5 minutes, but nowhere near 5 hours, thank freaking god. Despite having just taken you know, the bar exam – as well as interviewed with a federal judge – I had to get home so I could pack.
Yeah, I had 1 full day between the bar exam and needing to pack to leave my apartment in Boston – no rest for the wicked I suppose. However, that is a story for next time! 🙂
So that was Meem, Valentino, and I’s ABQ Adventure. Meem had some adventures of her own (including a train up to Santa Fe) while I was getting bar exam’d, but she can make her own blog about that. 😛
I had a lot of fun with them, and it was great to be with Meem during her first NM experience! It’s no real secret that SB and I intend to make our way to New Mexico (someday) so it was fun to get to experience it with family! Having Meem and Valentino there made taking the bar exam much more bear-able. 😀
The next post will focus on what happened between the end of the ABQ Adventure and all of us leaving for Iceland, which was an (very busy) adventure in and of itself!
Until next time,