In the summer of 1986, I spent two months in Brasilia, Brazil, on a consulting assignment with the Organization of American States (OAS) at PLANVASF (Development Plan for the São Francisco Valley). The work entailed developing and running a computer model of reservoir routing, a job which had me working around the clock with the computers of the day (a vintage mainframe Burroughs, which took all of six hours to run my job).

The last day of my stay, I decided I had worked long and hard, and looking for some adventure, I rented a car and headed for the new mall at the outskirts of town, intending to buy a present for my wife.

After spending a couple of hours at the mall, it was time to return to the hotel, but I could not remember which of the doors I had come in. They all looked alike! My concern turned into despair when I realized that I did not even remember the color or make of the rental car. There I was, in a singular predicament: The mall was an island surrounded by a sea of parking lot, and I didn't know where the car was. I couldn't even describe it, other than to say that it was a compact, a popular size in Brazil.

I spent at least an hour retracing my memory, and trying the key on several cars, hoping that nobody would notice; a most enduring experience that I swore never to be caught in again!


The Rio São Francisco at Penedo, Alagoas, Brazil.

The Rio São Francisco at Penedo, Alagoas, Brazil.