Usually the first and maybe the only time most people get to ride in a limousine is behind the hearse of someone who was close to them.

A second time for others is maybe if thye splurge and rent one for their wedding.

During my youth the man next to my house could handle both occasions and often did in the one limousine he owned.

He would take off every morning of the week with his somber look to get into a funeral procession and on a few of these days he would race back to his drive-way, tie a stuffed white dove to the hood of the limo and drive off to pick up some happy bridal couple.

No matter how hard he tried to clean it for this dual role, I'm sure more than one grieving passenger being chauffeured to a cemetery kicked subconsciously at a few kernels of rice and wondered.

It was a freezing winter day in Boston when I was to climb into yet another big long black car for the ride to the cemetery.

My father had passed away and a brother had arranged for the funeral.

We were looking out the window at the cars lining up when he said, "You're riding in the first car with Pa's two sisters, just the three of you."

To make small talk during a grieving period helps to relieve the tension a little, so I asked, "Whatever happened to the undertaker's son, the one who was slow and the nuns kept promoting anyway?"

"He's driving your car," was his answer as he left to take care of some detail.

Limousines have been used for all sorts of things, even to fire people. A friend who had a high position on a network news station called for his limousine one day and was told, "You don't have one anymore," and that's how he found out he was out of a job.

First-class is the way David Klein likes to go and wishes more people had his taste. The 33-year-old former parking lot attendant and NYU business school graduate is the owner of a multimillion dollar limousine rental service called Dav-El Livery. He was driven up to the Watergate Hotel the other afternoon in a $28,000 chocolate-brown Lincoln.

Klein did not care about the scratches on the right front door, "put there by some lousy kid," he said as he watched Paul Feroldi, his chauffeur, try to move the six-door, longer-than-normal Lincoln around the narrow horseshoe driveway of the hotel.

Sitting in a big stuffed chair in his suite at the Watergate, his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, Klein sipped a dry white wine.

"When I got out of NYU, I tried everything to earn a living," he said. "I tried Wall Street, tried selling Volkswagens. Then I began parking cars at the country clubs and beach clubs in Westchester."

Klein bought a Cadillac sedan and began doing weddings to pay for it. His first shot at a celebrity was during the early '70s when he drove Shelley Winters to a party. Winters invited him in and he met a gang of other celebrities, including Michael Bennett of the Broadway show "Chorus Line." who used his services and spread the word.

Today Klein has 75 cars available at his home base in New York, 20 in Los Angeles, 5 in Washington, and has just opened a service in Houston.

"D.C. is a great limousine town," he said excitedly. "It is a lot of money around."

Dav-El Livery runs its own chauffuer school, where the employes are advised of short routes to destinations, and are told not to get into a conversation with a client, never to accept an invitation to a party and never to ask for autographs.

Drivers can make up to $350 or $400 a week, and all benefits are paid.

Klein, whose cars were used in New York by Jimmy Carter during his run for the presidency, and by the king of Norway and Queen Elizabeth during their visits to the United States, is very aware of security for his clients.

"The doors are always locked: we never let a client out until the people near the car look right. If necessary I have 10 small understated cars to move people around," Klein said.

As you walk in the door of the Watergate Hotel, there is an office a little smaller than Klein's limousine. "Watergate Limousine Serivice," the sign on the door says. It is run by Ibrahim Awadllah, whose friends call him Abe, a Jordanian who grew up in Jerusalem.

Awadllah loves his fleet of Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs - including a convertible and a $42,000 silver model - and a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud.

A person can call up and rent a car with a telephone, color TV, refrigerator, sun-roof, privacy windows (you can see out but they can't see in), a Persian rug and fresh flowers.

"A couple was married in one of our limousines," Awadllah said. "Sure, they had the clergyman, the bridesmaid and best man, and they wanted to be driven around the beltway as the ceremony was performed."

His chauffeurs, including several women, are all trained in protocol and must speak at least two languages.

"Oil companies like the small cars, the Saudi Arabians like the Rolls-Royce. When Carter was governor of Georgia he used a limousine when he came for a visit," said Awadllah.

Awadllah, 44, started his $2-million business with a quarter-million-dollar loan from an Arab bank owner. His family was well-known in the automobile business before he came to this country in 1954.

"I had one client, a Moslem from Saudi Arabia, who wanted to go to New York," Awadllah said. "He wanted to stop and pray on the way. I got the prayer carpet, the food he liked, orange juice and lamb chops, the chauffeur took care of everything."

The limousine life can get to you, I thought as I sat in the air-conditioned, wide-back seat, sniffing roses, sipping wine, listening to Beethoven on the tape deck, as we pulled away from the Watergate watching the "other half" hurrying to the Metro or waiting for a crowded bus.

But the Mittyish life was short-lived when my liveried chauffeur turned and said. "Here you are, sir." When I glanced outside, snapped from my reverie, I thought to myself, "Well at least it's not a cemetery."