TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Insomnia, an occupational hazard in the hospitality industry, was the icebreaker for bartender John Urbanski and cocktail server Melanthi Patrick.
It must have been 4 a.m. when he caught her Facebook post. She, too, had given up counting sheep.
With one eye on the computer screen and another watching The 'Burbs on TV, John messaged Mel the suggestion that the silly Tom Hanks movie might induce sleep.
Not a chance. Chatting online in the wee hours awoke him to her longtime crush.
"I batted my eyelashes and he didn't know I was alive for at least a year," said Mel.
Not true, protests John, 38. He kept his distance from "a gorgeous co-worker because I believed there was a military man in her life serving in the Middle East, something I respected." He asked Mel to dinner as soon as he confirmed her solo status.
Conversation was all over the map during that first date in September 2009.
Mel recalled, "I had just returned from Vienna, visiting my uncle, who is head of UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization). John went to high school there."
His late father's career with U.S. Customs meant relocating the family every few years, John said, recalling homes in Austria, Germany, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Talking to Mel revived memories of an Urbanski family summer vacation from Europe to India, Thailand and Japan, on to Hawaii and California, and concluding with a cross country drive to their cottage in Sackets Harbor in upstate New York.
Mel, 31, was born in Sierra Leone, the daughter of a Lebanese-African mother and Sri Lankan physician father. When she was 8, the family emigrated to Champaign, Ill. English is her first language, but she understood John's culture shock as a kid growing up in a foreign country.
When her parents divorced, Mel, then 16, and her mother moved to Tampa. Over the next decade she modeled and waited tables while earning degrees — a bachelor's and a master's — in medical sciences at the University of South Florida.
A shared curiosity about people, places, food and music has taken the couple from Chicago to Colombia. Meticulous John books the flights, hotels and cars. Extrovert Mel seeks out offbeat restaurants and sights.
In May 2012, as they were goofing around at their favorite resort in Bonita Springs, John pretended to fall out of a hammock. Scrambling to his knees, he proposed with a pink, pear-shaped diamond set in rose gold.
Over the next year, they juggled wedding planning, moving into a new home in Town 'N Country and work demands. Mel became a medical assistant for a Tampa urology practice. John was named wine and beverage manager at Eddie V's prime seafood restaurant.
The Rev. Sean O'Brien officiated at the multicultural ceremony at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Tampa on Sept. 21, four years to the day after their first date. The Mass was in English; African blessings were recited in the Mende language. The bride's sari was white; 10 bridesmaids' saris were blush pink. The bride's mother, aunts and many cousins wore traditional ashobi dresses made in Sierra Leone.
A trail of luminarias led across the street to the Vault, a former bank turned into a party hall. The 230 guests said blessings in Arabic and English over a Lebanese dinner. DJ Josh and Phase 5 band mixed American, African and salsa music.
Insomnia cured, say Mr. and Mrs. Urbanski. Besides, who can sleep when there's a whole world to explore together, starting with a honeymoon in Europe next year.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.