18,000 miles to Washington
Friday, November 20, 2009; 3:12 PM
Paulo Roberto Vieira stumbled into the Brazilian consulate on L Street NW bedraggled, nearly broke and at the end of his rope.
Dressed in a battered black leather jacket and scuffed black jeans, he told consular officials an almost unbelievable story -- that he had just ridden his motorcycle from his home town in southern Brazil to Washington, a monumental, 18,000-mile quest for official recognition of his life's proudest work, a vehicle accessory he says he invented.
Vieira's arrival that day in late October ended an odyssey that wound through 11 countries , a startling demonstration of Washington's enduring power as a magnet for ordinary people who believe the answer to their prayers can be found in the capital of the free world.
Standing next to his Honda CG-150 Titan motorcycle on L Street several days later, Vieira, gaunt and visibly weary, recounted in his native Portuguese the improbable tale of his four-month journey. How he rode alone for more than 1,900 miles on mostly unpaved roads through the Brazilian Amazon, narrowly avoiding becoming lunch for one of the rain forest's most feared carnivores. How a delay in obtaining a U.S. visa forced him to traverse Mexico three times before finally crossing into Texas. How he hoped for sweet justice in the U.S. capital, perhaps even from the president himself.
"I decided to come here because Washington is where things get done," he said. "Barack Obama is already solving so many other problems, how much more trouble would it be for him to solve mine?"
Vieira, 58, has followed a well-worn trail to Washington blazed by people seeking redress for grievances great and small, from the Bonus Army encampment of the early 1930s to itinerants who make Lafayette Park their home while they fight their cause.
Strangely, Washington was not the end point Vieira had in mind in June when left his home town of Campinas, an industrial city of a million people about 60 miles from São Paulo. As he describes it, the trip sprang from his decades of labor as a motorcycle mechanic.
A lifelong tinkerer, Vieira in the mid-1990s developed a device that detects low tire pressure and alerts drivers with an alarm. He registered a patent for it in Brazil in 1999. Since then, he has waged a consuming battle for international validation of his rights as the inventor, particularly in the United States, where a similar accessory is made under a U.S. patent. His ultimate goal is to open a factory in Brazil to produce the alarm.
"This is my family's patrimony," said the divorced father of eight grown children, tapping an inch-thick binder of official Brazilian documents that he says back his claim. "It's for my children, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
The patent fight led him to leave Campinas on June 25 for Brasília, where he hoped his government could solve his problem once and for all. But after several fruitless days spent sparring with bureaucrats, Vieira decided there was only one place to go for satisfaction -- Washington.
From the road, Vieira called his youngest daughter to inform her of his change in plans. She tried to talk him out of it.
"I cried and begged him for the love of God not to go, but he went anyway," said Camila Souza Vieira, 21, in a telephone interview from Campinas. "When he gets an idea in his head, no one can change his mind."