Boot Hill

Denver dumps its most infamous export.

The Mile High City has snubbed its most famous -- and infamous -- namesake.

Denver no longer gets its parking boots from Clancy Systems. That's the hometown company that in 1986 bought the patented Denver Boot from the family of Frank Marrugg, who invented the contraption in 1953 and has been cursed by drivers around the globe ever since. "The language is pretty harsh; there's a whole new dictionary when a person is booted," says Clancy's Liz Wolfson. But Marrugg, an inventor, pattern-maker, Manual High School shop teacher, musician -- he made his own violin -- "and pretty cool guy," Wolfson says, was only trying to help a pal, a Denver cop, when he came up with a prototype for a clamp that would fit on an automobile wheel, immobilizing the vehicle.

From those humble beginnings, the Denver Boot became a worldwide legend, as city after city -- from Chicago to Mexico City -- started using the device to solve their parking problems. As the invention's reach grew, so did Clancy. "We actually do parking systems for city governments all over the U.S., and a lot of private contractors," Wolfson says. "We work with a lot of the major transit authorities. The boot's a very tiny piece of what we do today. Still, there isn't a day we don't ship some boots out. The boot business has never been bigger or better because of the Internet. They type in 'Denver Boot' and they find us."

But what Denverites find on their immobilized cars today isn't the patented Clancy product -- that round boot with the aluminum finish. A few years ago, the city went outside Colorado to get a bunch of clunky clamps from Palma Auto Boot of Maryland. And then this summer, it bought three dozen "denver boot style wheel clamps" from a New Jersey company, Pitbull Tirelock. Those triangular yellow clamps now appearing on Denver streets are the Pitbull Combo. And we thought pitbulls were banned in Denver!

Turns out that time is of the essence when you're booting vehicles -- and not only can an entire day's supply of the smaller clamps be loaded into one Department of Public Works van, but the sixteen-pound Pitbull is easier to install than a Palma. So easy, in fact, that the city plans to buy more.

"They're much faster to put on," said Riene Candeleria, one of the city's eight senior vehicle boot investigators, as the affable VBI immobilized an Off Limits operative -- and repeat scofflaw -- Tuesday morning. "This is my first boot of the day, so it's a little cold, but usually it's fifteen seconds." And seconds count when you're dealing with a very cranky car owner, she noted, especially in December, the worst time of year to be booting people.

Cranks, be advised: Don't call the 505 number stamped on that yellow clamp to complain. It will take you to Santa Fe, New Mexico (the company's former home), where a tired voice informs you that "this is a private residence, and you should call the operator."

I am furious, yellow.

Scene and herd: After all the ink -- and tears -- spilled over the last days of Duffy's Shamrock, the closing of the Bamboo Hut went almost unnoticed. Almost. Fans of the place -- which had held down a peculiar patch of the 2400 block of Larimer Street since 1981 -- gathered there Saturday (Mayor John Hickenlooper had popped in for a last lunch the day before) to toast J.R. and Chris Perez, as well as 25 years of cold beer and hot Mexican food. (J.R. didn't change the name when he bought the joint -- but the tiki theme was long ago booted out in favor of Broncos memorabilia.) A victim of the neighborhood gentrification that had already taken Monkey Bean and a hair salon next door (rumored to be turning into a fancy sneaker store), the Hut went dark for good Sunday night. Adios.

 
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