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  • Kevin Elliott

Steve Reifman

Memories may have gotten a little hazy since the 1970s for Oakland County attorney Steve Reifman, but luckily for him, he kept a journal of his travels across parts of Europe, Africa and India along what became known as the "hippie trail."

"I wrote it as I traveled, and when I started traveling I didn't know how long I would go," Reifman said, explaining the origins of his book, Wanderer: The Ultimate Hippy [sic] Trail Journey. "I applied for law school at UC Berkeley, and I had mediocre grades. I thought, 'If I don't get in, I'm going to hit the highway.'"

Not really knowing where he was going, Reifman said he had $27 and some sketchy instructions on how to travel from Istanbul to Katmandu. There were other stops before and along the way, but the route was similar to that of other hippies, and beatniks before them. The goal was to travel as cheaply as possible, and interact with local populations along the way.

"A friend gave me sort of instructions ... it told where to get visas. I had that with me, but I went all over Europe. I didn't know what I was going to do next. I hitchhiked across North Africa. I had some incredible adventures."

All along the way, Reifman logged his adventures into his journal. While he transcribed some of them to digital format, the novel didn't take shape until he met F.T. Burke, who had written The Bohemian Adventure, a tale about touring with the Grateful Dead.

"I had almost two handwritten journals, and Fred really helped, and out of that we got the whole journal typed in and made it into chapters," Reifman said. "It's like my brain on a skillet. I wasn't hiding anything. Also, doing it 40 years later makes it easier to tell."

From there, Burke took the notes and turned it into a fictionalized travel adventure about a bushy-haired hippie named Woodstock who wanders the world in search of his soul, and finds the type of drug-addled, free-loving adventures you might expect, which ultimately led him to God, back home and to a more traditional life.

"I worked with Fred and he turned out a chapter a week for about 20 weeks," Reifman said. "He churned it out, and we did a creative process that was like birthing a baby every chapter. He went through the trouble of turning the document into a story in a way that only my friend Fred can do. There was analysis of the people and places and happenings, but he added some spicy elements to make it more fun to read."

The process of working together forced Reifman to recall some details of the trip to make sure the timing and locations stayed accurate. In addition to the journals, the duo dug through letters Reifman had written, old notes and items and paraphernalia collected along the way.

"The thing I love about the book is that it took my knowledge and it's an actual journey that I traveled – every element of it, whether on a bus or train or hitchhiking," Reifman said. "There are a few things that happened where we had to take novelist privilege, but I didn't censor him. It was his novel, but I did enforce reality, in terms of place and travel."

Photo: Laurie Tennent

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