Thursday, August 24, 2006


It's 10:30 Wednesday morning and I'm done with my work obligations for the day. I'm in Delaware, about an hour south of Philadelphia. What to do? I've got a stack of brochures describing a multitude of area attractions: museums, battlefields, shopping districts, and so forth. I'm looking for something not too far away and preferably not outside (the weather is actually quite nice--not too hot or humid--but I'm wearing slacks and a short-sleeved sweater--not exactly comfy attire for strolling around a zoo, for instance).

I decide to head to West Chester, PA for a tour of the QVC studio.

They depart every hour on the hour, and I get there around 11:15, so I have some time to browse in their store, which sells many of the on-air items. I'm tempted by the battery operated candles, but ultimately pass. I am unable to resist, however, when I spy a few nifty electronics gadgets : a foolproof timer (to maintain the appearance of an occupied apartment when I'm away), a nifty spacesaving (and cord-saving) outlet box that turns a two-fer into a six-er, and a remote control unit that allows you to turn three items on an off with the touch of a button. The cool thing about buying at the store is you don't have to pay for shipping, and you can get smaller quantities--I take home one timer instead of the package of three available on the air.

I have only bought one thing from QVC in my whole life, although I will say there was a spell recently when I watched it a lot and was tempted to purchase many items...but I never allowed myself to give in because I knew if I did, it would never end!

The tour starts promptly at noon and I am joined by some other women, mostly double my age. Our guide is a lady named Anne. She reminds me of my mentor teacher at my first student teaching job, Lorraine. All tour guides have their memorized spiels, but I get the impression she's not done this a thousand times. She is very nice and the information is impressive. For example, their biggest single-day sales was $85 million, $60 million of which was thanks to the special value of the day, a Dell home computer package. We get the behind-the-scenes scoop, including set decoration, graphics, audio, and product selection. We also get to watch what's being broadcast live--they're talking up a very nice looking handbag, which happens to run 160 bucks. We pass by the quality control lab where people are sitting at computers, but we are told they test thousands of products every year to find the ones good enough to make it on air. (I am soooo very tempted to take pictures but they are not allowed, and I am a good girl and obey the rules.)

My stomach is grumbling so after the tour finishes I set out to find some lunch. I spot a McDonald's and get off the freeway, but in the same strip mall is a deli so I go there instead. Back in the car the Garmin tells me it will take 40 minutes to get to Nottingham, PA so I call up Herr's Snack Factory to hold a spot on the 3:00 tour. I head out and it seems like I'm driving into the middle of nowhere. I have a hunch that I'll be the only one going on this podunk tour, especially since it's summer and school's out. But when I walk inside the visitor's center, it's like Disneyland exploded.

There are bright colors everywhere and the place is crawling with families. The gift shop is overrun by souvenir-shoppers, and I am flabbergasted. Who knew? I manage to get into the 2:30 tour and we head into a theater (bigger than some of the indy theaters I've been in!) for a 10-minute movie about the history of Herr's. So very quaint. You know how it goes, man starts business from scratch, it builds and grows and there are setbacks but they are overcome, and look at him today. The tour of the factory itself was like being in the Food Network show Unwrapped. I love this stuff! There really is so much we take for granted...something as simple as a bag of chips has quite a story behind it. Some facts I was particularly fascinated by:
  • In the bagging room, lots of chips end up falling on the floor. They are swept up daily, and taken down the road to the Angus farm to be used as cattle feed.
  • In the potato room, where the spuds are rinsed, all the excess starch that comes off is collected and sold to a paper company to make the glossy coating on magazine covers.
  • The heat coming off freshly fried potato chips is collected and used to heat the water for the building, and in the winter is used for climate control.
  • They make thousands of pounds of pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, cheese curls, and popcorn every day.
  • The plant is open 24 hours a day, four days a week, then shuts down around noon on Friday for a long weekend.
  • Oh, and come to find out, the employees enjoy profit-sharing. Buy Herr's!
Seeing enormous mounds of chips stirs up a craving. At the end of the tour we get to try a sample of freshly fried and salted potato chips. They're even still hot! Yummo! In the gift shop, they have bags of different flavors for 15 cents; I discover that the Salt & Pepper is my favorite!!

The day is young and my flight is not for hours so I search through my brochures for something else to occupy my time. I think about visiting some waterfront shops, or the Brandywine Battlefield, but decide to head for Strasburg to tour the Amish Village. As I enter Lancaster County, PA, I'm on the lookout for horses and buggies. Sure enough, I see about a dozen of them over the next few hours. Amish prefer not to have their picture taken but I snapped this photo while driving and you can't see the person so I think it's okay.

Man, those buggies go fast! I don't know why I expected them to saunter along, but seeing them whiz by was kind of amusing.

The tour of the Amish house is truly captivating. There is so much I never knew about this culture. For instance, they only have church every other Sunday, but they don't meet in a church. They take turns hosting it in their living rooms. Afterwards, they have a meal, in which the men eat first, followed by the boys, then the women, and finally the girls. The single women must wear a white apron, while the married ones must wear a black one. Single men are clean-shaven; married ones must grow a beard, but no moustaches allowed. (The Amish were persecuted in Europe by moustached men.) They have a fundamental belief in self-reliance, so they do not accept any governmental benefits such as Social Security or Medicare (although they do pay taxes). Electricity is not allowed, but they have ingeniously adapted modern appliances for their use. For instance, the gas-powered iron and refrigerator, or the lawn mower engine-powered washing machine. Everything in the house must have a purpose; no extraneous decoration allowed. Things like calendars, then, are Amish favorites, because it is a practical item that can be made beautiful. Around the age of 18, all Amish are allowed a year to party hearty, if you will, and live it up. After the year they must decide whether to remain Amish, or switch to the "English" lifestyle. Astoundingly, only 5-10% opt to leave the Amish way of life. Weddings are allowed November-January, but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Other months and days of the week are too busy for something so frivolous as a ceremony.

When the tour of the house finishes, we are allowed to wander around the village on our own, visiting the schoolhouse, the blacksmith shop, the smokehouse, and the barn.

I hop back in the car and head for the airport. Garmin tells me I'll be there in a little over an hour, which gives me plenty of time. I have to do a little hunting around for a gas station near the airport to fill up my ironically-licensed rental car

but I'm through security and waiting at my terminal a full hour before my flight. (By the way, don't rent from Hertz at the Philadelphia airport if you can avoid it--it took forever for the shuttle to come around, the line at the office was ridiculous, and two of the three attendants were incompetent.) What a full, fun, and fascinating day!


  1. Your day makes me feel tired Melissa....You have mastered the art of making the most of every minute.
    I would have loved to tour QVC and the snack factory. You know that I love Unwrapped the most.
    I will have to share my Amish story with you sometime. Very interesting. Is your Garmin over her sore throat? : )

  2. Garmin is still silent...she'll be meeting her maker shortly. I hope they fix her quickly. I will be lost (literally) without her!

    I'm so curious to hear your Amish story.

  3. I have to remember to find cool things to do like factory tours when I'm away. It sounds like you had fun. :)