On any given day in Albuquerque, you can grab a dime bag of America's most famous meth for only a buck.
The same infamous "Blue Sky" that Walter White slung on Breaking Bad won't keep you tweaking on week-long binges, however. After all, it's only rock candy—but The Candy Lady's customers are more than happy with that.
Even though the final episode of Breaking Bad aired in 2013, Albuquerque businesses are still riding Heisenberg's coattails, from a store that sells "Blue Sky" donuts to an RV tour of Breaking Bad's filming locations. Needless to say, the series about a milquetoast chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer helped grow tourism in the Land of Enchantment. Debbie Ball, the owner of The Candy Lady and Breaking Bad's original meth prop-maker, jokes that one of the positive outcomes of the show's popularity is that it's helped people understand that New Mexico is not a part of Mexico.
Ball, 65, is sitting at a metal table outside of her candy shop while munching on a Blake's burger (New Mexico's answer to In-N-Out). Before Breaking Bad came around, she says, 50 percent of her customers were locals. "Now, it's flip-flopped," Ball says. "I'd say 75 percent of my customers are tourists looking for Breaking Bad stuff."
Not one to turn down an obvious opportunity, Ball has made Breaking Bad a major focus of her shop. She continues to sell house-made fudge, liquorice, brittles, and caramels, but outside her Old Town store is a banner emblazoned with the words, "The Bad Candy Lady, Breaking Bad, The Experience." Inside, customers can buy T-shirts, shot glasses, and aprons adorned with the familiar faces of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. If you head over to the back of the shop, you can ask a clerk to take a photo of you wearing a porkpie hat, sunglasses, and a "Let's Cook, Bitches" apron decorated with Jesse's face, all while holding a tray of the blue crystalised candy.
Ball, who learned how to make candy and chocolates from her mother before opening her shop in 1980, created the meth prop used in Breaking Bad's first two seasons. She likens it to that "super-saturated sugar solution that crawled up the string" that kids often make in school. The filming crew came to her because she already had a reputation in the area for making candy props for film and TV productions. Ball has made meth candy for Showtime's Shameless, and also did work on a Steven Seagal movie. (She doesn't remember which one. "A B-movie," she says. "You know, the kind he does.")
The first rock candy she made for Breaking Bad was clear; it didn't get its signature blue tint—a colour that was unusual for real speed at the time—until later when the film crew sprayed the dye over it. "The guys came in and asked what colour to make it, and I said, 'I don't know, whatever colour you can't make [in real life],'" Ball says. "[Vince Gilligan] picked the colour of the sky, which was nice."
After the second season was over, the Breaking Bad crew members changed and they ultimately went with another prop-maker for the blue meth. "They bought it from somebody else and it didn't really bother me. Nobody in this town cared about that show," Ball says, referring to the show's first few seasons.
By the fifth season, however, things began picking up for Breaking Bad. When she saw Bryan Cranston gift David Letterman a dime bag of the blue rock candy on the Late Show in 2012, she decided to start selling the stuff herself.
The Candy Lady came to national attention shortly after a local TV station interviewed her and other vendors in the community who were capitalising on the success of Breaking Bad. The story spread like wildfire and she spent the next few days doing interviews with the likes of the Associated Press and Washington Post.
Ball doesn't own a copyright to the candy, but claims that AMC didn't copyright or trademark it either. She still gets requests from customers to label the baggies as official Breaking Bad merchandise, but she refuses to do it. "It just doesn't make sense," Ball says. "It's like trying to label a bag of pot."
Not everyone is on board with meth candy, however. In 2012, the Albuquerque Journal published a series of angry letters from readers, one of whom called the candy "a lousy example for kids." In 2014, a couple of students got suspended for bringing the candy to their elementary school.
For her part, Ball sees Breaking Bad as more of a cautionary tale. Throughout the day as parents come into the candy shop with their children, she'll repeatedly tell each of them to watch Breaking Bad with their kids. Some respond by looking at her incredulously. She tells one customer, "When you talk to children about this and watch the show, they get the message about the show that it's all about choices you make and the consequences of your choices. My youngest customer that was into it was seven, and I asked him what he learned from it and he says, 'Oh, I learned not to be like Walter White and I'll never do drugs in my life.'"
Ball's no stranger to controversy and she's not afraid of it. A couple of years after she opened her candy store, she became known for her X-rated confections, thanks to a writeup by an Albuquerque food critic. Customers began flocking to her shop, which was originally located across the street from her current location, to gawk at chocolate penises and cherry-studded vaginas.
Ball was met with protests from local church members, and she says that city officials even tried to shut her down but couldn't because she didn't violate any zoning ordinances. The ACLU even came to her defense. Eventually, everyone left her alone.
The candymaker misses the good old days, when people weren't so sensitive. "I like to have fun with [my candy]," she says.
"We don't have enough fun in life. People don't know how to laugh [anymore]. They don't have a sense of humour anymore. Look at how the world is: Everybody wants to be offended. You can't joke about anything. Sex is off-limits, drugs is off-limits. When I was young, we just took everything in stride."