Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Carwash takes center stage in money-laundering scheme (but it’s all for show)

How one carwash found fame on the hit TV show, Breaking Bad

October 21, 2013

Breaking Bad has the distinction of being, perhaps, the most compelling television show in recent memory. (Maybe, ever). Every week fans scour the show, frame by frame, trying to pick up on the director’s so-called “Easter eggs” in an attempt to unravel the tangled plot and break the code.

However, behind Walter White there is Bryan Cranston. Behind Jesse Pinkman - Aaron Paul. Behind Skylar White – Anna Gunn. And behind the A1A Car Wash is Octopus Car Wash.

A little background for those of you who have not seen the show: Breaking Bad is about a high school chemistry teacher (White/Cranston) who is diagnosed with lung cancer. Thinking his days are numbered White gets a gig at a local carwash to bring in some extra cash. It isn’t long before White hooks up with local methamphetamine user, Jesse Pinkman (Paul), to cook meth in order to provide for his family long after the cancer has taken his life.

Once the money starts rolling in (as the body count rises) the White’s decide to buy the carwash Walt works at to launder the profits from his, now, meth empire.

With these details in mind we posted a poll on carwash.com asking carwash owners whether the use of the carwash as a money laundering tool in the acclaimed television show cast a dark shadow over the industry or if it helped drive people to carwashes, perhaps drawn in by their favorite show.

The results of the poll jockeyed for position from day-to-day. Ultimately the results were about 50/50.

Your carwash will be a star…

Charlie Gates is one of the owners of the Octopus Car Wash used in the filming of Breaking Bad. Like the show, the carwash is located in New Mexico. It was Gates who made the decision to allow Producer Vince Gilligan to turn the Snow Heights Circle Octopus Car Wash into the A1A Car Wash featured in the show.

“They came to me with a script for season one,” Gates explained. “They didn’t divulge the whole storyline.”

He says he was “concerned” about the plot at first, especially as it might have impacted peoples’ views on the carwash industry.

“In the first season, when I realized the storyline included methamphetamine manufacturing, it was concerning to me,” Gates said. “I was concerned about the affect it would have on the carwash industry.”

But as filming went on Gates realized that in a world where drugs and violence ruled, the carwash was a “safe” place. It wasn’t a place full of violence. No one cooked meth at the carwash. A1A Car Wash was, for lack of better a term, clean.

The logistics

Gates explains that during shooting he was unable to perform business as usual. The streets were blocked off; no one could get to the location without credentials. Gates dealt with two types of closures - full facility closures and partial facility closures.

Full closures required the carwash to be closed a full day for filming, while on partial closure days the crew set up very early in the morning and A1A was reverted back to Octopus by noon.

“It’s a major production to have a [TV show] filmed at your place,” Gates said. “They close everything.”

Gates explains that one of the deals he was able to work out with producers during negotiations was they could only shoot during his slower days and, preferably, on rainy days.

Although the carwash was closed, some of the employees were not given the day off. The lucky ones were cast as A1A employees and were paid extras credited in the show.

As far as Gates went, he was kept on as a technical consultant, in case they needed to learn how to use the equipment or something failed. But they didn’t ask him too many questions about the inner workings of the carwash industry as a whole.

The destruction of a towel cart

During a break in filming Gates decided to remodel the location. When the cast and crew returned to the carwash to film they had to “get rid of” the remodel in order to keep continuity in the series — which takes place during the course of one year.

Gates said one of the biggest surprises during filming is when one of the crew members asked if they could destroy one of Gates’ towel carts with a car.

“They came in and asked ‘Could we please destroy one of your towel carts?’ It was unscripted,” Gates said. “I asked them, ‘Are you going to get me a new one?’ They said, ‘Tell us where to get you a new one.’”

They had a new towel cart to Gates by 5 p.m.

The fame phenomenon

“It has created a phenomenon where we get daily visits from people that are probably not our customers, a lot of times they are from out-of-state,” Gates explained. They ask about the filming, they take pictures … We’ve kind of gotten on the bandwagon with it.”

Octopus is able to sell non-copyrighted Breaking Bad-themed merchandise, such as t-shirts and postcards featuring scenes of their facilities that were featured prominently in the show and would be recognizable to customers. They also hold tours of the facility.

Yes, Breaking Bad fans are so hardcore they want to see the Coca-Cola machine Walt pulled his revolver out of in season five episode 12.

Gates admits he likes the show and is very fond of the cast members.

“[Cranston] was very accommodating. I was invited to post production parties,” Gates said. “They’re nice to be around.”

Now that the filming is over it’s back to business as usual. Well, sort of. The location still gets Breaking Bad tourists and the carwash has become an icon for a rather passionate group of fans.

“We’re a carwash first,” Gates said. “We like to be back doing what we’re doing … But it was fun.”