In Ritzy East Hampton, Beware the Deadly Tire Boot!

Just try to drive off with one of these on your wheel. (Photo: Quinn Dombrowski [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

You have to be tough to take a seaside vacation in the Hamptons, the billionaires’ paradise on the upscale end of Long Island. Just the other day a poor woman in Montauk was arrested on her beach blanket and marched off in her bathing suit for forging a parking pass. In East Hampton alone, five people were arrested for this crime in July — not surprising, because stickers are $350 a season for nonresidents. The penalty for this crime is death (not really, but it could be up to six years in jail — faking a public document is a felony).

And then there’s the booting. In East Hampton, arguably the toniest town out there, you’d better be careful where you stow your car. For at least 10 years, vehicles considered improperly parked have been immobilized with impossible-to-remove tire boots — and it takes a hefty fee to a private contractor to get them off. Try to drive off and your tire and wheel are destroyed.

According to Hamptons gadfly Dan Rattiner, editor of the local Dan’s Papers, “Town and Village officials say that the booting may be obnoxious, but on private property it is legal and there is nothing they can do about it. They say that booting is a legitimate way to deal with overtime parking in private lots, and that many communities do it, reluctantly to be sure, but nonetheless.”

I was in Newport, Rhode Island, last weekend and it felt like a police state. “Parkng $20” said the signs, and cops were on every corner ticketing scofflaws. The gridlock was impenetrable. This is having fun? I crept five hours in stop-and-go traffic to eat an ice cream cone under the glaring eye of unfriendly locals? I’m staying home next time.

Well, the Newport Folk Festival did have its moments (especially Neko Case and Gillian Welch) but really. I got to stand next to a stately Judy Collins, but it was all streamed on the radio. This coming weekend they do it all again with the Newport Jazz Festival.

Back to booting. “It’s highway robbery,” says Rattiner, and he’s right. At a Hamptons supermarket recently, a poor woman got booted and was told it would take a whopping $175 to get it removed. When she tried to take a picture of the freebooter, he slapped her camera away, hitting her in the face and giving her a black eye. The signs in the lot warning motorists not to park there have the threat level of Homeland Security code red.

In some communities, such as Minneapolis, booting is strictly regulated — fees are limited to $100, booters (called “vehicle immobilization services”) have to take anger management classes and wear suit jackets (I did not make this up). The Minneapolis law says booters have to respond within 60 minutes to requests to remove the boot (or it is removed free). But the freebooting privateers in the Hamptons have no such restrictions — it’s more like the Wild West out there. I love the Minneapolis provision that the motorist is supposed to be “informed” that the boot has placed. How, smoke signals?

In the Hamptons, rudeness seems to be OK, and much of the time you can’t even find the booters to take the darned thing off. Because of Rattiner’s crusade, the East Hampton town fathers are reportedly researching the limits of the law, and maybe boot reform will make things more bearable next summer.