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Amy Schneider first arrived in Oakland on January 1, 2009—the same day Oscar Grant was killed by a BART police officer. “It was a weird introduction to the city,” she said. She was married at the time. Her wife wanted to pursue a career in comedy and they figured that a move from Ohio, where Schneider grew up, to a big city was necessary. They fell in love with the Bay Area.
Schneider, who clearly knows a lot about a lot of things, said that she knew “shockingly little” about Oakland. Since then she’s come to appreciate its long history of social activism and its physical beauty.
And Oakland has come to appreciate Schneider. The Grand Lake resident was the first openly transgender Jeopardy! contestant, and the first woman to win more than $1 million on the show. Her winning streak ended after 40 consecutive victories, and Schneider will return to compete in the Tournament of Champions this fall.
Schneider is now frequently recognized around town and treated like the celebrity she is. She recalls getting her booster shot at Kaiser, when “a whole bunch” of people approached her, mostly, she says, “wanting to take their picture with her for their moms. “It was such a cross section of people,” she said, “and one person was trans, which was particularly meaningful to me.”
Being trans in Oakland has never been an issue, said Schneider, given the area’s diversity. “I probably came out sooner than I would if I had stayed in Ohio,” she said.
Schneider met her current girlfriend, an Oakland native who works as a nanny, during COVID. The pair like to spend time around Lake Merritt.
When asked about some of her favorite things in Oakland, Schneider mentions the Grand Lake and New Parkway theaters, First Fridays, hiking in Joaquin Miller Park and at Mountain View Cemetery. She also enjoys dining at Mua, and Burma Superstar. She has no doubt learned much of what she knows from Walden Pond Books, where she says “I can’t tell you how much money I’ve spent there.” Oakland’s main library branch is also a place she is known to frequent.
When asked by interviewers how she got so smart, she usually answers by saying she’s a naturally curious person. What does she find curious about Oakland? “How little people know about it,” she said.
Before COVID, her go-to place to hang out was the Heart & Dagger Saloon, which she refers to as her home away from home. She said there’s a different vibe there now because of the pandemic, and she misses playing pinball, which has been suspended for the time being. Schneider also loves the bar’s clientele, but admits that her fame has changed things a bit.
“Yeah, everybody there was super-excited for me,” she said. “I was definitely given the star treatment, which wasn’t bad.”
The Los Angeles Times and many other national media outlets reported last month that the Jeopardy! champion had been robbed at gunpoint in Oakland. How does she feel about the message that sends?
“I’ve been here 13 years, and have never felt less safe here than I have in Dayton or Cincinnati,” she said.
Her enthusiasm for Oakland unaltered, she recently agreed to work with Visit Oakland to promote local businesses and tourism. To honor Schneider’s achievement, Mayor Libby Schaaf is preparing a proclamation to create an “Amy Schneider Day.”
Although her heart may be in Oakland, she admits to have journeyed to San Francisco for her tattoos, and to Berkeley for her piercings. Berkeley is also where she honed her trivia chops, at pub quizzes held at Bobby G’s Pizzeria.
Did her team always win? “We were always competitive,” is her modest reply. “We certainly were not winning all of the time.”
Her knowledge gap, she said, is in the area of popular music. “For Jeopardy, there are only a dozen or so operas that you need to know about, but there’s just so much more music out there.”
What’s next? Schneider has announced that she is currently working on a nonfiction book. “I have a million ideas,” she said, but Oakland will definitely be included. “It’s central to who I am, and my life here has been a key part of my journey.”
She also recently announced she quit her day job as a software engineer.
It was actually a geography question that ended Schneider’s record-breaking run, but during my interview with her, when I asked “The answer is Oakland. What’s the Jeopardy question?” she replied with certainty.
“One of the most underrated cities in the country. And one of the most beautiful.”