A Review of Breaking Bad Fan Fest #1 (Nov 7-8, 2014 - Albuquerque, NM)

We came, we saw, we got more great pics, and we conquered the trivia contest (no, we really did; we won first place). My wife and I returned to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a second time in 2014 on Nov 7-8. Here are some thoughts about the first ever ABQ Breaking Bad Fan Fest.

The fest was created and managed by Jennie Rexer and Miguel Jaramillo. I only got to interact with them briefly, but they seemed really kind. (At one point before a panel discussion Miguel was going around introducing himself to attendees, which was a pretty swell gesture.) And you of course can't question their commitment and love of the show, given that they ended up funding a lot of the festival themselves. I'd also tip my hat to them for their customer service. I had a few questions for Jennie before we flew out to ABQ, and man, did she respond quickly.

Our first activity was the Geeks Who Drink trivia contest at Tractor Brewing. My wife and I came with the explicit goal of winning this (we may or may not have studied with flashcards on the flight), and we ultimately made good. I had concerns going in that the contest itself would be more about speed than knowledge, and this thankfully wasn't the case. The format was that for every round you wrote your answers to eight questions down on a piece of paper, turned it in, and then the quizmasters tallied up. There were approximately 20 teams in the bar, though it's hard to tell how many of them were hardcore. The round on Saul, for example, was generally pretty easy, yet the average score for it ended up dismal. I'd argue that the most challenging rounds were #2 (music, which stumped me on a few that I should have known, damn it), and #8 (where things got real, asking about obscure stuff like Jesse's blood type and allergy). Overall, this was really fun. Jeremiah Bitsui, Max Arciniega, Steven Michael Quezada, James Ning, and Robby "Moustache Guy" Sanchez were all in attendance and hanging out. At one point, Bitsui was standing next to me; I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to meet me at a truck stop on the 25, 2 miles south of exit 13. He proceeded to deliver the line back to me in full character (complete with dead-eyed stare), which was pretty slick. After trivia there was a party at a bar downtown off Central, but we skipped that in favor of dinner at The Standard.

Day two started with a slightly abbreviated RV tour to sights like 308 Negra Arroyo, 9809 Margot, A1A, and Lavandería Brillante, where we got to go through the gate, into the laundromat, and see right where the phony machine would lean forward and reveal the stairs to the super lab. This was the highlight of the tour for us, especially since we had already visited all the locations back in February. A guy we met on the tour mentioned that the laundromat had let him in a few days prior without an official tour, but as you can see in our February notes, we're not huge fans of going into businesses where we can't at least buy something for letting us gawk and waste their time (just a personal thing we have). The tour guides are nice, typically-zealous superfans, and if you ever take their tour, pump them for behind the scenes info. They were extras on the show at some point, and know some details that are pretty interesting and cool. As a slight aside, it was on this tour that we saw what has become of Octopus Car Wash. Its signage is now red, and it has a very national chain type feel. It's honestly disappointing, even if the main structure is still unchanged and in-tact.

Later in day two were three core events: the crew panel, the costume contest, and the cast panel. We skipped the costume contest, so I can't comment on it. That said, it looked like it was fun, and looked like a chance for more super fans to do super fan stuff. So cheers to that. Regarding the panels, I'll spare a detailed and painful recreation, but they were both really interesting in their own way. For the crew, one of the major themes was on just how they found such amazing locations (Alex Gianopoulos was on hand to field those), but I wouldn't say any of the secret sauce got revealed. In fairness, it seemed possible that there is no secret sauce, and that scouting is really grindy, arduous work. Either that, or Gianopoulos is on the coy side. Otherwise, there was a fair spread of interesting questions for the other folks, focusing on stunts, being a stand-in, makeup, and other production curiosities.

For the second panel, well, it's pretty fair to say that Luis Moncada stole that one. The guy's personality is as big as the cousins are terrifying, which isn't something I ever would have guessed. Some of the topics I can recall centered around deaths (theirs, except for Charles Baker, and others'), what they're currently up to with their careers, feelings on Walt (folks were split on this one), memorable moments from filming, etc. All told it seems like everyone is busy, which is great. There was such a humility about these actors--even if you had never seen BrBa before you would want to see them continue to succeed. Perhaps the strangest moment came when a fan revealed that he had brought an axe (yes, he had driven, not flown) for the Moncada brothers to sign, but I guess all's fair at a DIY event like this one. And hey, nobody suffered the same fate as poor Mrs. Peyketewa.

Things closed with a VIP party at Casa Esencia, which was a nice ending to the festivities. If you hadn't gotten a chance for that autograph or picture, or wanted to get in one last question, this was your chance. I didn't see many folks there from the crew panel unfortunately, but the cast panel all showed up and were incredibly accommodating in terms of taking pictures and signing things. We had some interesting moments, including a quick education in local politics from Steven Michael Quezada, some great pics with Baker, Bitsui, and Arciniega, and the crown jewel, our pics with Luis & Daniel Moncada. Did I mention how accommodating everyone was? I had mentioned to my wife as we were driving to Casa Esencia that I'd some previously poor experiences meeting musicians (everybody has a bad day, so I don't take it personally), but wow, everyone here was in great spirits and it made for a great ending.

When all was said and done, this one will go down with a similar fondness to our experience at Twin Peaks Fest 2010. It was spectacularly nerdy, and also warm and welcoming. I genuinely feel a closer connection to Albuquerque; it's hard not to given how friendly everyone is there. We met some great people, and it's impossible not to admire the folks (i.e., Jennie and Miguel) who put so much work and money into making it happen. I really hope we can return and defend our trivia crown next year. For now, you'll pardon the camera phone, but below is my favorite pic after the two linked above with the Moncadas.