Quick Take:

Local-centric podcaster Nativo Gonzalez aims to tell the story of new projects and efforts in the Santa Cruz business world, the role of fathers, life-journey narratives, emerging subcultures and the unique joys and challenges of living in Santa Cruz County. For two years, his weekly shows have been doing just that.

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Somewhere around 3 a.m. each day, Nativo Gonzalez climbs out of bed at his Scotts Valley home. It’s what he calls his “time with God,” a daily ritual that involves working out, long walks, meditation and prayer (in three separate postures), all before the rest of the world is even awake.

Such a routine might be unremarkable if Gonzalez were a monk, a priest, or a yogi. He is, in fact, none of those things. The lifelong Santa Cruzan is an entrepreneur and podcaster who is quietly becoming one of the most influential voices in town, thanks to his podcast “Paid the Cost,” which features reflective and often engrossing one-on-one interviews, mostly with Santa Cruz County entrepreneurs, artists, professionals and anyone else Gonzalez feels has a meaningful story to tell.

As of early August, Gonzalez had released 112 weekly episodes of “Paid the Cost” — named for the Snoop Dogg album “Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Boss.” Among his guests have been artist/muralist Taylor “Tay Lion” Reinhold, chef Jessica Yarr, football coach Dwight Lowery, oncology nurse/entrepreneur Mia Thorn and Lookout food writer Lily Belli, along with many others. Common themes of the show include new projects and efforts in the Santa Cruz business world, parenting (particularly fatherhood and men’s roles in families), life-journey narratives, emerging subcultures locally, and the unique joys and challenges of living in Santa Cruz County. Gonzalez is not trained as a journalist or professional interviewer, but his conversations are often lively and penetrating, a back-and-forth that can reveal as much about himself as it illuminates the interests and stories of his guest.

Rising at 3 a.m. (and getting to bed by 8 p.m.) is part of how Gonzalez manages his life, as a husband and father of two boys, a partner in a new downtown business, and as the affable and joyful host of “Paid the Cost.” “I can’t rush my day,” he said with a broad grin and a twinkle in his eye. “I have to settle into it.”

Those first hours are a time of inspiration for him, but not only in the spiritual sense. In fact, it was during one of those pre-dawn walks two years ago that he first hit on the idea of “Paid.” “I remember the exact spot on Scotts Valley Drive that I realized I can do this,” he said. The idea came during the pandemic lockdown. Gonzalez and his wife, Tanika, had been doing a thriving business as owners/operators of a Beach Flats-area motel. They had recently remodeled the motel and, just as the COVID lockdown occurred, they had enjoyed their best February ever. The lockdown derailed Nativo and Tanika’s motel business, and soon he found himself at home in Scotts Valley at a crossroads in his life. At the suggestion of a brother-in-law, he discovered podcasts on his morning walks. Soon after, the inevitable insight came, that he could do his own show.

He built a podcast studio in the garage of his home and lined up a few guests. His first impulse was to try to articulate through interviews what made Santa Cruz life and culture unique.

“I’m from Santa Cruz, right?” he said. “I’ve lived in a bunch of different places in different states. And, yeah, people have heard of Santa Cruz. But some people think Santa Cruz is a shirt, know what I mean? We are so overlooked. So, I was like, you know what? It is my obligation, my duty, my mission to make sure this wonderful area is not overlooked anymore.”

Podcaster Nativo Gonzalez in his Scotts Valley home studio
Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Many of the guests on “Paid the Cost” come with a story of struggle and suffering, and Gonzalez, who turns 41 on Saturday, brings credibility to those conversations with his own life story. He grew up with his mother in the Seabright area of Santa Cruz. At Branciforte Middle School, young Nativo first found himself being drawn into gang culture as a means of protection.

“We were all coming from broken homes,” he said, “and we found safety in each other. The house we were hanging out in on a regular basis, there was alcoholism, there was heroin. I mean, they were buying us cigarettes when we were 11, 12 years old.” His best friend at the time died from a gunshot wound, and Gonzalez has tattoos of his dead friend’s graffiti tag.

The exposure to booze and drugs lured Gonzalez into the user’s life, and at the age of 20, he found himself in the town of Paradise, selling dope and doing methamphetamine.

“I wasn’t using my real name. Nobody knew who I was. Nobody knew where I came from,” he said. “All anybody knew was that I had meth all the time.”

The lowest point came one night while lying in bed next to a sawed-off shotgun and two handguns, wrestling with overwhelming paranoia and self-loathing.

“The only way I know how to describe it is, God said, ‘Nativo, it’s time to stop.’”

So he called his father.

Gonzalez had a contentious and problematic relationship with his biological father. But he didn’t want to panic his mother, and he knew his father was an addict and might have some practical advice. His father told him to get to Vacaville, about a two-hour drive away, where his aunt lived.

Podcaster Nativo Gonzalez in his Scotts Valley home studio
Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

“I fell asleep for three days,” he said. “I’m like, 145 pounds, my ribs are showing, and my aunt nursed me back to health like a baby bird.”

Twenty years later, Nativo Gonzalez is walking a different path. He’s now a father himself — his older son, 15-year-old Nativo Jr., is a gifted baseball player and Soquel High School student; his younger, Amari, was born just last year. Before the motel, he owned and built a car-audio business. And today, he’s a partner in a new downtown business, Get Faded Company, a full-service salon for men and spinoff business of Get Faded Barbershop, just down the block on Cedar Street.

His podcasting has given him an opportunity to establish new relationships and deepen others. For the upcoming season, he has plans to add a few wrinkles to “Paid the Cost” — for instance, to broadcast out of his Get Faded shop in downtown Santa Cruz instead of his home studio in Scotts Valley, and to interview as many downtown business owners as he can. He wants to develop a protege or collaborator to bring a new voice and energy into the hosting of the show. He’s interested in serving as a producer and engineer for others to do their own podcasts.

Candidates for local office have approached him, looking for an invitation to be on his show. So far, in an effort to avoid partisan controversy, he’s resisted. But that pressure is likely to intensify. As for whether he’ll take part in the political debate this fall, he said, “We’ll see in November.”

For the moment, with his emphasis on talking to local entrepreneurs and artists, many of them under 40, Gonzalez is chronicling an emerging culture in a changing, pandemic-era Santa Cruz. It’s not an undertaking that is likely to make him wealthy.

“Paid the Cost” averages about 5,000 downloads a month, according to Gonzalez, and that number is growing. The most recent episodes of the podcast have been ad-free, because the show now lacks a sponsor. Gonzalez said he expects the sponsors and ads will return in the upcoming season of the show when he podcasts from downtown.

Focusing on community, particularly in a midsized town, doesn’t necessarily scale up to bigger things.

“Success is subjective,” said Gonzalez when I asked him how he measures success. “I mean, is it not success that I’m sitting here with you right now? Is it not success that I’ve found so many new friends? Is it not success that I’m happy doing this, that I’ve found something that has changed my life?”

As for his approach to podcasting, he feels he’s getting better and smoother with each interview, that he’s learned something about how to be genuine with people and encourage them to be genuine in kind. “I’ve never done anything as artistic as this,” he said. “I’m trying to be as simple as possible with what I’m projecting: to be loving, to be compassionate, to be empathetic. If we can boil everything down to those three things, can you imagine how we would treat each other? Can you imagine what kind of world we’d live in?”

Wallace reports and writes not only across his familiar areas of deep interest — including arts, entertainment and culture — but also is chronicling for Lookout the challenges the people of Santa Cruz...