City Paper is not for tourists
Greg Perry’s high-tech assault on one local car dealership.
The first time Greg Perry laid eyes on that Durango R/T, it was gleaming on the showroom floor and basking under bright ceiling lights. Black on black, leather interior, added suspension, modified exhaust, modified intake, 17-inch rims—it was jammed with all the features a truck buff could ever want.
Driving home from Florida a little over three months ago, Perry had blown a transmission seal on his Dakota R/T, which he had bought from Ourisman Dodge in Alexandria about a year and a half ago. When he returned to the dealership for repairs, sales manager Jim Warren pointed Perry toward the Durango R/T. “The factory just released this vehicle,” Perry recalls Warren telling him. “It’s the only Durango R/T in the District.”
Perry fell head over heels and decided to make the one-of-a-kind truck his own. He kept his head on his shoulders long enough to do some snooping online about his new love, but he came up empty-handed. He wasn’t discouraged, though, because he hadn’t been able to find information online about his Dakota R/T when it first came out, either. It was probably because both cars are considered rare special packages, he speculated.
Perry soon learned that his beloved Durango R/T was very special indeed. On the third day of his dealings with Ourisman, Perry was still haggling with his bank over financing for the rare model. Then he got a call from a friend at Manassas Dodge, whom he’d asked for advice about the truck.
“There’s no such thing as a Durango R/T….That’s something that they’ve modified at the dealer,” the friend told Perry. “They put that emblem and logo on the side of [a regular Durango].” Perry then got right on the phone with a representative from the Daimler Chrysler Corp., who told him that the Durango R/T would hit showroom floors in the spring of 2000.
At that moment, Perry felt played—the pushover, the chump, the sucker. Sure, he’d been called a computer dork—and he definitely had clocked some hours surfing online—but now that was Ourisman Dodge’s problem. Hell hath no fury like a techie with a gripe.
Thrown for a loop, dejected, and heartbroken, Perry made the hourlong drive home to his Reston town house. He returned to Ourisman the next day to “cuss the [general manager] up and down.” General Manager Andy Haye only vaguely apologized for misrepresenting or falsely advertising the Durango R/T, Perry says, and mentioned to him that the vehicle would be taken off of the showroom floor.
But when he picked up his rental car at the dealership two days later, Perry saw the dealer-made Durango R/T relocated to the other side of the showroom, where, he claims, Warren was pitching it to another potential buyer.
Ourisman Dodge Vice President of Operations Bob Hager defends the customization of cars, saying that the practice is not only perfectly legal but common among dealerships nationwide. “Dealers everywhere around the country do that every day,” notes Hager. “The reason that you do it is to make your car look different and appeal to someone’s individuality.”
The factory supplies all the materials, Hager explains: Ourisman Dodge ordered the Durango R/T stickers through the parts department from Daimler Chrysler. And, Hager adds, the car is clearly represented as a dealer-installed package. But even he admits the practice has some ethical ambiguity: “There is, in my own mind, some legitimate gray area using that terminology,” Hager says.
Perry agrees. He made a series of irate phone calls to Daimler Chrysler, as well as to the CEO and other executives at Ourisman. He even filed a complaint at the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, but wasn’t surprised when no action was taken on the organization’s “gold sponsor”—the car dealership contributed $2,250 to the chamber this year.
Perry then decided to engage in some guerrilla consumer advocacy. The sales staff all laughed when he walked back into the Ourisman showroom with his camera, and they smirked while he took pictures of the “modified” car they had tried to sell him. What they didn’t anticipate was that Perry would turn his lemon of a car into broadcast lemonade by staking a claim to the Ourisman name on the Internet.
Located underneath a bright, dangling light, Perry’s consumer command center isn’t what you would picture as the thorn in the giant corporation’s side. He’s got a desktop computer with wires like a tangle of spaghetti extending to a laptop beside it on his dining room table. Below the table sits a 5-foot glass case with gravel and a sizable chunk of driftwood, home to his iguana. The iguana, or Iguana R/T as Perry calls it mockingly, coils its tail just to fit inside the box on the floor and pecks angrily at the front wall as legs drift by.
This nest of coiled wires and reptiles is
where Perry administers www.ourismandodge.com. Perry eagerly registered the address for himself on June 24 when he found out that the dealership had failed to do so already. With the Ourisman name free for the smearing, Perry labeled the site “Ourisfaceman Dodge” and attests in a mock advertisement on the site that the company is “dedicated to screwing you out of your last red cent, with no sense of morality or ethics.”
Perry’s Onion-style Web site, which is a virtual circus of words and a smorgasbord of offensive wisecracks and lowbrow jokes, has been the talk of Internet rats, burned consumers, and automotive dealers alike. The site features a picture of a businessman with his head up his ass, as well as identifying snapshots of the dealership’s Durango R/T. On the link to his weekly updates, Perry has pinned the nickname Huggy Bear (from TV’s Starsky and Hutch) on sales manager Warren. And for reasons known mostly to him, he has a standing offer of $1,000 for the best picture of a monkey taken at the Ourisman dealership.
Perry says he’ll be happy to take down the site, just as soon as he gets a hand-delivered note by “Mandel ‘Hymie’ Ourisman dressed in World War II German Nazi Party regalia,” joined by Warren sporting a starched white toga. The site was named “Cruel Site of the Day” on July 27 when a fan submitted it to www.cruel.com.
“I am personally appalled at his racial comments and references,” says Hager. “I don’t know what makes that guy tick, but I think it’s atrocious,” he says of Perry’s unabashed name-calling and the references to the Nazi Party on the site.
“The Web page is meant to look ridiculous,” Perry responds. “Because ridiculous is just how I felt when I walked off that showroom floor that day.”
Perry, who admits that he barely made it out of high school, has been surfing the Net obsessively since age 16. He’s spent the last year and a half as an officer in a network security company protecting clients from pests like himself. “I have a technical advantage over [Ourisman],” he says mockingly. “These guys are basically operating in the Dark Ages.” Perry even took a week off from work to study up on Internet law, or the lack thereof, in a law library.
Despite Ourisman Dodge’s failure to secure its domain on the Internet before Perry did, Hager says that the company’s legal counsel is positive it has a legitimate right to the name Ourisman Dodge. “I look at this as Internet terrorism,” says Hager. (Ourisman does have an umbrella Web site for all its dealerships at www.ourisman.com.)
When Ourisman threatened to sue Internic, the company that registered the .com site, Perry called its bluff and also registered www.ourismandodge.org and www.ourismandodge.net.
Jeff Howard, president of WNC Internet Services, Perry’s Internet service provider, dismisses Ourisman’s threats as undeliverable mail. “They can sue me all day long….We don’t control content; that’s not the business we’re in.”
“I’m sure they’re feeling stuck-like-Chuck,” Perry says, “because they’ve tried to sue everybody and nobody has an answer, because there’s no law that they can point at. Conventional means for combating this Web site won’t work….I’ve done my homework, man.”
Perry’s Web site had recorded 184,517 hits as of Aug. 30, and, he claims, that number is climbing at an average of 3,117 hits per day. While nearly half are from commercial domains, the list indicates 1,827 hits from addresses of the U.S. government, 1,625 from the military, and others from a slew of countries spanning the globe, including 2,142 from Canada, seven from Lithuania, and two each from the Slovak Republic, India, and Hong Kong. Even Daimler Chrysler employees have hit the site more than 500 times, Perry says.
The site has a link to a Fairfax County Department of Consumer Affairs list of local companies that had consumer complaints lodged against them between July 1, 1996, and July 11, 1997. Ourisman Dodge appears on that list; Hager says that there were only six complaints, all of which have been resolved.
“I would love for them to sue me,” says Perry, “because I’ll represent myself, put on a clown suit, and mop ’em up all over a federal courtroom….The first day will be the leisure suit, second day will be the clown suit, probably, [and] the third day I’ll probably go in drag. I don’t know—we’ll see.” CP