Business Casual: And The Boot Goes On

Nothing says “Hope you had a nice evening, sucker, because everything’s about to change” quite as eloquently as a bright orange “Immo-bilization Notice” under your windshield wiper and a metal boot on your wheel.

When it happened to me, at an unattended private lot on Peachtree in Midtown, I was in-dignant, incredulous. I had paid the $5 fee to the lot’s machine, via bankcard, and still got booted.

Since then, I have learned that this is not an uncommon experience in Midtown and other parts of the city – and that the deck is pretty much stacked against the “bootee” who tries to recover the boot-removal “fee” expeditiously.

I did actually get my money back – after 22 days, half a dozen email exchanges and a trip to the bank to get paperwork to prove the $5 charge had cleared.

The parking lot machine, in my case, failed to provide the receipt that a nearby sign indicated I should retain and put on the dashboard of my car to prove that I had paid. No matter, I thought. I’m sure “they” have a record of my payment.

Besides, it was a beautiful night. I was headed for a friend’s birthday dinner at a nearby restaurant. Midtown was bustling and lively, and I was feeling good.

After a great evening, a couple of friends walked me back to the car where I found the boot.

From that point on, the story becomes equal parts comedy and drama. There is an indignant call to the booting company, during which I ask to speak to the supervisor and am told there is none. A stony-faced guy shows up and clearly doesn’t believe I paid. He is unwilling or unable to check the lot’s machine and will charge $75 to remove the boot unless I can produce evidence I coughed up the $5 – like calling up the bank transaction on my phone, which I am not able to do. I play him a telephone robo-banker message confirming the charge, but he isn’t satisfied.

My friends go into serious protection mode, assuring the booter that I am a fine, upstanding citizen who pays all my debts, including the parking fee, and if the collection machinery was in good working order, he would know this. The guy is unfazed: $75 – take it or leave it. Out comes a cell phone from a friend’s pocket, and the police are called.

That is when I determine that the most prudent solution is to pay the fee and worry later about a refund, but the booter has now decided he won’t take my $75 – he is clearly sulking.

The police officer who responds is disinclined to probe the business ethics of the parking industry but relieved that I am willing to pay; he persuades the parking person to accept my plastic.

The officer tells us the police get calls like mine “all the time” and that there really isn’t much they can do. Greek chorus-like, my friends engage in one last testimonial to my honesty. I’m pretty sure I hear one of them say what a shame it is that a senior citizen is enduring such an ordeal.

The boot is removed, and we all go home.

So I am feeling a little less warm and fuzzy these days about evenings in Midtown, especially when indiscriminate booters crash the party. Among my acquaintances, several have had experiences similar to mine – in Midtown, downtown and other parts of the city. Some even knew the specific lot I was talking about.

I get that illegal parking is a problem, but restaurants, businesses and entertainment facilities put a lot of effort into attracting patrons and customers. One really bad experience can trump a good marketing campaign.

Parking management companies earn their money by taking onerous enforcement chores off the hands of property owners and making sure deadbeats don’t overpark. But it’s fair to say some are pretty zealous in their booting.

The presumption is that the parker is always in the wrong: Guilty until the booters decide not guilty.

I suspect the “business model” employed by some of these parking outfits provides for wholesale booting – including applying boots to some cars whose owners have paid up. And they figure if they make the fee-recovery process tedious enough, a lot of people will likely give up to save themselves the hassle.

Could be it’s time to boot some of the booters.

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