How a crying baby on a bus turned into a mass protest

Oct 7 2011 - 10:05am

Images

This Oct. 3, 2011 shows a TriMet bus stopping for passengers at a bus stop, in Hillsboro.Ore. Oregon's largest transit agency says it's investigating a complaint that a driver kicked a woman and her crying baby off a bus in suburban Portland, saying, "I can't drive with that noise." Mary Fetsch, a TriMet spokeswoman, says drivers are not supposed to eject passengers from "vulnerable populations," including women transporting children. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 photo, Amy Pittman holds her two-year-old son, Jasper, in Hillsboro, Ore. Pittman and her son were ejected from a Tri Met bus in Hillsboro, Ore., when a bus driver thought Jasper was making too much noise. They were ejected 3-miles from their home in 90 degree heat. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Thomas Boyd)
This Oct. 3, 2011 shows a TriMet bus stopping for passengers at a bus stop, in Hillsboro.Ore. Oregon's largest transit agency says it's investigating a complaint that a driver kicked a woman and her crying baby off a bus in suburban Portland, saying, "I can't drive with that noise." Mary Fetsch, a TriMet spokeswoman, says drivers are not supposed to eject passengers from "vulnerable populations," including women transporting children. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 photo, Amy Pittman holds her two-year-old son, Jasper, in Hillsboro, Ore. Pittman and her son were ejected from a Tri Met bus in Hillsboro, Ore., when a bus driver thought Jasper was making too much noise. They were ejected 3-miles from their home in 90 degree heat. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Thomas Boyd)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Can. Someone. Please. Make. That. Baby. Stop. Crying.

No, actually. Babies are notorious for crying as long as they feel like it; adults are known by psychologists to hate the sound of crying babies more than just about any other sound; and well, there you are.

It's an age-old dilemma, and its very familiarity may account for the way in which an incident last week on an Oregon bus has become an international cause celebre. It is the story of two dozen passengers, more or less, a baby in a bad mood, and a bus that motored through its own terrible little Twilight Zone on the 16 miles from Beaverton to Forest Grove in the Portland suburbs.

The trip ended only when the bus came to a halt, the mother and baby were ordered off, the passengers protested in her defense, the driver suggested they could leave too if they didn't like it, and everybody did.

Oregon has talked about little else for days. Hundreds of comments have come in from around the world to newspapers and television websites, with people weighing in on behalf of beleaguered mothers, overstressed bus drivers, abused passengers, tired babies -- the whole unhappy mix of humanity thrown together on buses so often that it's a wonder only the babies actually cry.

The baby, the driver said, started howling in Beaverton.

A mother herself, the driver apparently halted the bus two stops short of her scheduled destination, and went back to talk to the woman, who had been futilely cradling and cooing to the 2-year-old.

The mother spoke little English, and didn't seem to understand when the driver suggested she get some keys for the child to play with.

Other passengers started getting impatient, according to various blogs and news reports, and yelled at the driver to get moving, that the baby wasn't bothering them.

"More than a few delved into obscene name-calling toward the driver," one passenger reported on a local bus driver's blog, Rantings of a Transit Bus Driver. "The driver then compounded the whole thing by spitting heatedly that anyone who didn't like it could get off the bus as well."

The mother, apparently embarrassed at the fuss she was causing, got off the bus. "The mother and crying baby were asked to leave the vehicle," said Mary Fetsch, a spokeswoman for the area transit agency, TriMet.

The passengers weren't about to let it go there, though. Jennifer Chapman, a graduate student in early childhood special education, challenged the driver.

"I said, 'You can't kick a woman and her baby off at night in the middle of Hillsboro,' " Chapman told KOIN TV in Portland. "And she said, 'If you don't like it, get off the bus.' "

Chapman did, and stood next to the mother, and the driver then said that anyone else who didn't like it could also get off the bus.

One by one, Chapman said, every other passenger on the nearly full bus filed off.

The dispatcher told the driver to go ahead and leave the rebellious passengers to wait for the next bus, but for future reference, throwing crying children off the bus wasn't allowed, according to the blog and confirmed by TriMet. "If somebody's kid is crying, you still have to drive the bus."

Fetsch said the driver, a 10-year veteran, had been put on paid leave pending an investigation. TriMet officials are trying to find the mother to interview her, she said.

In retrospect, maybe everybody just got a little bit too mad about something that wasn't that big of a deal, said the passenger who wrote in to the bus blog.

"The driver lost her cool and escalated the situation, yes, but several of us riders (yes, myself included in the heat of the moment) did not make things any better."

(c)2011 the Los Angeles Times

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